HARTFORD, CT — More than 5,000 people in Connecticut have now died of complications related to COVID-19, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday, adding another 59 lives to a somber list that has been growing since March.
Lamont updated the state’s coronavirus numbers from a televised news briefing at the state Capitol. It was his first back in Hartford after spending two weeks in self-quarantine at his home in Greenwich, a precaution taken when a member of his senior staff tested positive for the virus.
Connecticut has now seen 5,020 COVID-related deaths, a “big number,” which the governor said rivaled cancer and heart disease this year.
“These were all members of our family, generally not kids but their parents and grandparents. We’ll miss them dearly,” he said.
In a statement on Twitter, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz urged residents to respect their neighbors and observe public health guidelines.
“It’s important to remember that these are not just numbers—they’re people. To those who have lost loved ones, our deepest sympathies go out to you. COVID-19 can be fatal,” Bysiewicz said.
Hospitalizations also continued to climb through the holiday weekend, with another 81 patients admitted around the state. Currently there are 1,098 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Connecticut.
That amounts to around 71% of the state’s roughly 8,000 hospital beds, Josh Geballe, state chief operating officer, said. Around 59% of 1,000 intensive care beds are now occupied and about one-third of them are COVID-19 patients, he said.
Hospital capacity is a key metric for the governor as he weighs imposing additional public health restrictions. Healthcare workers in nearby Rhode Island were expected to begin taking patients at COVID field hospitals Monday as traditional hospitals neared capacity, according to the Providence Journal. Officials there have instituted a two-week “pause,” during which residents are urged to stay home.
Lamont spent much of Monday’s briefing responding to questions related to a letter sent to him by a group of doctors. In the letter, the physicians urged the governor to enact more restrictive policies to contain the spread of the virus.
“Based on what we know about the epidemiology of COVID-19, we are confident that a decision to close indoor dining and gyms and ban all other unnecessary public gatherings would protect our citizens from this lethal disease, keep our hospitals and caregivers from becoming overwhelmed, and save lives,” the physicians wrote.
Lamont said he took the letter to heart and planned to meet with doctors Tuesday, but did not think the restrictions they called for were required yet. The governor pointed to the three-day infection rate. At 4.4%, the state infection rate seems to have plateaued somewhat, down from the 6% range it reached less than two weeks ago. He said it suggested residents were taking precautions without additional restrictions from the state.
“You don’t have to do a lot by fiat. The people of Connecticut continue to do the right thing,” he said.
The governor said he has also heard from residents who want to see restaurants and gyms remain open, in part due to the mental health benefits of being able to get out of the house and exercise. It’s a sentiment that is echoed by gym employees around the state, some of whom wonder if their establishments would be able to weather another lockdown.
“I don’t know if we’d be able to survive another one,” Mallory Ragion, a manager at Club Fitness Enfield-Scitico, said Monday. “We’re just getting back on our feet from the last shutdown.”
Ragion also worried about her gym’s clients. She said the first lockdown occurred as outside temperatures warmed and many people took their exercise routines outdoors. A closure now would leave many without options, she said.
“This is what makes people happy and now winter is right around the corner,” she said.
Some gym employees questioned whether contact tracing in Connecticut has attributed any significant spread of the virus to gym settings. During the briefing, Geballe said there have not been many cases linked to gyms here, but it has been seen in other states.
“A gym in Connecticut is fundamentally going to be similar to gyms in other places. So we do look at trends we see in other states,” he said.
Last week, new rules went into effect for gyms, which now require patrons to wear their masks at all times, even while actively exercising. Geballe said state officials were hoping the new mandate would be enough to prevent spread in gyms.