With a COVID-19 outbreak spreading through the White House, Gov. Ned Lamont appeared alone for a news briefing Monday to announce that he and his staff would be observing stricter social distancing policies and more frequent virus testing.
Lamont typically presents updates on Connecticut’s coronavirus numbers with his Chief of Staff Paul Mounds and his Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe flanking him at a distance. On Monday, Mounds and Geballe were in different rooms. The governor said high profile cases including President Donald J. Trump, his wife, and several of the president’s staff served as a wake up call to heighten precautions.
“We want to err on the side of caution again,” Lamont said. “It was a weekend where the president, Mrs. Trump were found to be infected. Hope Hicks. Cam Newton. We’ve also decided everybody in the governor’s office is going to be tested on a regular basis. I think twice a week. Just as we get through this year and what could be a testy flu season.”
The new testing routine will be conducted using tests with a 24-hour turnaround time and will apply to the governor, his senior staff, his state police detail and his family, Geballe said.
Lamont took the opportunity to chide Trump, who announced in a tweet that he would be discharged from Walter Reed Hospital Monday evening. In the tweet, the president seemed to wave away concerns over the virus saying “Don’t be afraid of Covid” and “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” Lamont called the tweet “totally inappropriate” and said now was not the time for residents to let their guards down.
“Let’s say they were a little casual in some of the Rose Garden events, some of those big rallies,” Lamont said. “They just realized how much risk there is. I think for our entire team we thought together as a group, it made an awful lot of sense to keep a little more distance and test more regularly.”
Despite the increased caution, the governor said Connecticut was doing better than most other states. The state saw 823 new cases since Friday with a positivity rate of 1.64%. The state also experienced 4 additional COVID-19-associated deaths and 19 more people were hospitalized as a result of the virus. The additional hospitalizations brings the total number to 129, a steep increase from just a week earlier when only 75 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Connecticut.
Lamont said the state was still on track to ease gathering restrictions on businesses like restaurants from 50% capacity to 75%. The change is scheduled to occur on Thursday. The governor said he would reconsider the Phase 3 opening if the statewide positivity rate jumped to 4-5% but he does not believe restaurants are a driver of new infections.
“I think our restaurants here in Connecticut have managed that very professionally. They know the worst thing in the world for their restaurant and their industry would be if there was some sort of flareup” associated with a restaurant, he said.
Lamont said he has eaten inside a restaurant only once since they opened their doors again in June. He stopped short of saying he would personally feel comfortable eating inside a restaurant filled to 75% of its capacity.
“Look, I’ll get there. I think so,” Lamont said when pressed. “I’ve been pretty impressed with the restaurateurs. I’ve seen how careful they are about distancing. I’ll probably look in. If I see some of those plastic partitions that would give me a little bit of confidence.”
The governor also said he hopes to have a contact tracing app running in Connecticut before the end of the month. The apps are designed to alert users when they have been exposed to other users who have tested positive for the virus. He said the administration has been coordinating with officials in nearby states as well as app designers.
The apps are more effective in areas where a high number of users choose to opt in to the system, he said.
“I urge you to opt in. I think it makes you safer and the people around you safer but that’s your option,” Lamont said. “Any data about your positivity is totally anonymized, meaning it’s anonymous. Those names do not go anywhere.”