ctnewsjunkie file photo
Gov. Ned Lamont (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

Despite a “constructive conversation” with a group of doctors asking him to enact tighter restrictions to contain the COVID-19 virus, Gov. Ned Lamont indicated Wednesday he had no immediate plans to change course.

“I don’t govern by fiat,” Lamont said at a Manchester press conference on Connecticut’s successful effort to put laptops in the hands of 141,000 remote-learning students.

“If I say, ‘Close the restaurants tomorrow,’ it’s not like everybody goes home and sits with a TV dinner on their lap. This takes persuasion, people understand what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it and every step of the way we lead with public health,” the governor said.

His comments come after a Tuesday meeting with a group of physicians who wrote to him last week and asked that he close gyms and indoor dining at restaurants, as well as ban all unnecessary public gatherings. The additional restrictions would “protect our citizens from this lethal disease, keep our hospitals and caregivers from becoming overwhelmed, and save lives,” the doctors wrote.

On Wednesday, the governor called the meeting “constructive.” He said the doctors “impressed upon [him] the urgency of what’s going on in the ICUs and the hospitals.” Asked about what might trigger more restrictive policies, Lamont said he was watching hospitals for signs that ICUs and health care professionals were becoming overwhelmed.

“I’ve seen hospital systems get overwhelmed in other parts of the country, not to mention Italy and other parts of the world. That’s my key metric,” he said.

Dr. Mark D. Siegel, a Yale-New Haven Hospital physician who was present for the Tuesday meeting, said in an email that he believed the governor came away from the conversation with insight he might not have otherwise had.

“He didn’t mention a specific metric that he would use to change policy, but I was impressed by his interest in the stories we were telling from the front lines, where we’re already seeing signs of system overload,” Siegel wrote, adding that his views were his own. 

“We are extremely busy caring for patients with a host of illness, not just COVID, for example, patients with heart failure, emphysema, strokes, etc., so when you add COVID on top of that, we risk trouble,” he said.

In their letter last week, the group of doctors pointed to an “incredibly concerning” and rapid increase in hospital admissions. According to numbers released by the governor’s office, there were 1,152 coronavirus patients occupying hospital beds in Connecticut on Tuesday. That’s a steep climb from just one month earlier when there were 340 such patients. On Oct. 2 there were only 110 COVID-19 patients hospitalized.

With cases expected to continue rising into the new year, the governor is trying to maintain a balance between taking public health actions and keeping the state’s economy open. And doctors are not the only parties writing to influence his decision-making. On Tuesday, the Connecticut Restaurant Association wrote to the governor and legislative leaders urging, among other things, that policy-makers allow indoor dining to continue.

“Connecticut has now proven that it’s absolutely possible for restaurants to operate safely with indoor service—we ask you to continue to keep our doors open, so that our businesses can survive,” Scott Dolch, the association’s executive director, wrote.

Dolch estimates that the state restaurant industry has already lost more than 600 businesses. In the letter, he urged state leaders to establish a new grant program to help support Connecticut restaurants which are currently operating at 50% capacity. He also asked that they help boost customer confidence that restaurants are safe.

“To be clear, our industry is on the verge of collapse. Without your commitment and real support, thousands of restaurants across Connecticut will be forced to close—and the vast majority of them will never reopen,” he wrote.