HARTFORD, CT — Nine Democratic state senators asked Gov. Ned Lamont not to begin reopening the state on Wednesday.
The senators said while Connecticut is on the right track, the transmission of COVID-19 is still occurring and some areas in the state are still seeing positive cases increase.
“Moreover, Connecticut has still not implemented widescale testing of essential workers, let alone of the population as a whole, nor do we have a statewide track and trace system in place or universal testing of our most vulnerable populations in congregate settings,” the nine senators said Thursday in their letter to Lamont.
Sens. Matt Lesser, Alex Kasser, Mae Flexer, Mary Abrams, Gary Winfield, Saud Anwar, Joan Hartley, Christine Cohen and Julie Kushner wrote that they are “anxious to reopen Connecticut’s economy and generally agree with the metrics laid out” but fear that if it is done too soon while the first wave of the pandemic is still raging, “it will add fuel to the first wave, delaying our eventual recovery.”
The letter was slightly more blunt than the letter sent earlier this week by Senate Democratic leadership and some of the same senators.
The earlier letter, which included Senate President Martin Looney and 10 senators, questioned what type of criteria were being used in order to guide the reopening. It listed more than 25 questions lawmakers felt had not been answered.
“There is currently not enough testing to provide routine testing on essential workers including nursing home workers and state employees in congregate settings — will testing for them be assured?” the senators wrote.
They added that the “guidelines set by your ReOpen Advisory Group on May 1 indicate that 42,000 tests per week are required to begin reopening, but 140,000 tests per week are needed to prevent new outbreaks. When will either of these targets be met and can you assure us that sufficient testing materials can be sourced to maintain these testing levels?”
Dr. Albert Ko, who is chairing the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Committee, said Thursday that the 42,000 tests per week allows them to test people who are asymptomatic and could spread the virus to others without knowing it.
He said the state is expected to reach the 42,000 tests per week.
Over the past seven days the state has administered 33,000 tests.
The new criteria for testing will target vulnerable populations like nursing home patients and workers, correction officers and inmates, and urban communities where social distancing is much harder, Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said.
Geballe said the state now has the ability to run 70,000 tests per week and the state is making sure it has the same amount of testing materials available. Lamont said by the end of June they expect to be running 100,000 tests per week.
The senators also wanted to know what “sufficient” contact tracing means and how “adequate” PPE is being defined.
They wrote, “if a business cannot maintain appropriate social distancing at all times and provide appropriate protective gear for all of their employees, they should not open.”
What about transparency?
“We’ve been trying to make sure everything the Reopen Committee has been doing was totally transparent especially when it came to the legislature,” Lamont said Thursday.
He said the committee has done a good job communicating with lawmakers and the public about what they are thinking and why they’re giving the advice they have so far.
“I heard from some of the folks in the legislature, ‘Maybe you’re going too fast.’ I heard from 130 restaurants yesterday, ‘You’re going too slow.’ We’re trying to get a balance going forward to keep you safe first and foremost.”
Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, said they’ve done many calls with legislators on both sides of the aisle and many of their comments led to modifications to standards that have been put out.
“The legislature always has a role to play and the executive branch has a role to play as well,” Mounds said.
He said they are happy to answer any legislator’s question, but a few letters “is not going to deter the progress this whole reopening process has been making.”