Thomas Breen/ New Haven Independent

HARTFORD, CT – Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that he hasn’t signed a formal agreement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about building a “contact tracing army.”

“We’re just beginning to talk about that,” Lamont said.

As of Wednesday, the state had 22,469 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 1,544 associated fatalities,1,972 hospitalizations, and 69,918 people tested.

The number of people tested increased by 5,762 between Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s due largely to a new partnership between Hartford HealthCare, the state, and Quest Diagnostics.
Lamont said the state hopes to reach 1.5 million tests by mid-May. The 2,000 additional tests each day will increase Connecticut’s daily testing average by 80%.
But testing alone won’t be enough to give Lamont confidence to reopen the state on May 20th.

“Contact tracing — it goes back many, many years,” Lamont said. “They’re doing in New Haven right now with volunteers.”

Contact tracing is a labor-intensive way to make sure someone knows that a person they may have been in contact with has been infected with the virus.

“Cuomo is thinking about including New Jersey and Connecticut as part of a consortium and we might be able to work together on this, but that’s still to be determined,” Lamont said.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said they are investigating some “cloud-based platforms” to help out with contact tracing. He said the technology could help the state work closely with 64 local health departments.

“Right now Connecticut, by a number of metrics, is doing well with slowing the spread, but we can do better with contact tracing,” Lamont said.

Lamont said the contact tracing would be a “Connecticut operation” and would be done very thoughtfully.

What about Personal Protective Equipment?

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he has direct knowledge of suppliers who were unable to deliver PPE to the state because Connecticut refused to meet their payment terms.

“I understand the fear is that the state could fall prey to a bad actor that does not deliver the materials promised, but the remedy is simple,” Fasano said. “The state needs to use due diligence to consider a supplier, see what other states they have provided supplies to and ask those states about their experience.”

Lamont said the state is “vetting a lot of fraudulent claims.”

“We’re going to be strict with the taxpayers’ money,” Lamont said. “We don’t want to be promiscuous with the taxpayers’ money, that’s for sure.” 

He said they have left no stone unturned to get the necessary protective gear they need.

Frontline workers are still struggling with Tyvek suits and garbage bags because they can’t get surgical gowns or the other necessary equipment to care for those with COVID-19.

A handful of nurses have shared photos of the condition of their protective gear, which is being made by an army of volunteers.

“Every nursing home is vetted every day to make sure they get what they need,” Lamont said Wednesday. “Hospitals are getting what they need. We’re now able to expand the pie to some of our small business and grocery [stores] over a period of time. I think you should have confidence. There is no room for second-guessing.”

Fasano, who is friends with Lamont, said he’s tried to privately convince the governor to loosen some of its contracting restrictions in order to obtain life-saving PPE.

Geballe said they have put money up front for deals and they have worked with private partners to put money up to close out large deals for PPE.

Geballe said they didn’t need an executive order to make those changes. He said the executive order signed last week allows Connecticut to do business directly with Chinese suppliers.

“There is a tremendous amount of fraud out there and we do work very hard to diligence every lead that comes in and not be haphazard about it,” Geballe said.

Geballe said Wednesday that they changed the payment terms for PPE in March.

Fasano said that’s not been the experience of the suppliers who have come to him to help negotiate a deal with the state.

“We can put a cap on how much we spend with suppliers for an initial purchase, and then increase that amount once we know they are a reliable source,” Fasano said. “If even after these measures are in place we do experience an issue with one supplier, we will have saved lives with the PPE we have received as a result of adopting policies that keep us in line with other states and don’t put us at a disadvantage. There are many ways to address the concerns, but just saying no to suppliers who are helping other states is not the right balance.”