Reopening plans call for mass testing of college students
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s colleges and universities may open at their discretion, in a phased-in way between May 20 and September 1, with mass COVID-19 testing of students living on residential campuses, under a package of recommendations submitted Wednesday to Gov. Ned Lamont.
The plan, however, depends on certain benchmarks being met, such as a steady decline in hospitalizations in Connecticut and colleges and universities having adequate supplies of tests, face masks and personal protective equipment.
Approximately 190,000 students are enrolled in higher education institutions across Connecticut. They employ about 45,000 people.
“For residential institutions, we are recommending that a screening of everyone, testing of everyone, when they come in the fall, and isolating those who test positive and depending on what the public health thinking is at that time,” said Rick Levin, former president of Yale University and co-chairman of the higher education subcommittee of Lamont’s reopening advisory committee. Levin said there may be a second round of testing and more random screenings during the course of the school year.
Under the proposed guidelines, institutions will be free to decide whether they need more time for certain programs to restart.
The suggested timeline for reopening calls for research programs to restart beginning May 20; nonresidential workforce programs and nonresidential clinical/laboratory courses required to complete degrees in the beginning of June; other nonresidential programs, graduate programs and undergraduate residential programs on a small-scale pilot basis starting July and August; and the bulk of undergraduate residential programs and K-12 boarding schools to begin opening Sept. 1.
The guidelines also recommend various social distancing measures, such as 6 feet of separation when possible in classrooms and dining halls, requirements for wearing face masks and providing single-occupancy dorm rooms for students with preexisting medical conditions.
“Given the heterogeneity of our colleges and universities, one size won’t fit all, which is why we need carefully tailored guidelines for differing parts of this sector. This framework to reopen our higher education institutions is a vital component of our overall plan to reopen Connecticut,” Lamont said in a written statement.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
In other developments related to the coronavirus:
After an uptick on Tuesday, the overall number of hospitalizations in Connecticut dropped by 55 to 1,445 being treated for COVID-19. The state has been seeing a downward trend for more than a week. However, figures show the number of hospitalizations grew slightly in New London and Windham counties.
A total of 2,718 people have died from COVID-associated illnesses.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADJOURNS
The final day of the General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session was a far cry from the frenzied atmosphere of past years on Wednesday. Only a dozen or so legislators and staff, all wearing face masks, gathered in the Hall of the House of Representatives to officially close out the session. Lawmakers have not been at the state Capitol on official business since March 11. But House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, one of three top leaders retiring this year, noted that legislators have been spending long days on the phone and in online meetings with the governor and his staff, evaluating Lamont’s executive orders, and helping constituents.
The General Assembly is expected to reconvene in a special session later this year, possibly in June.
Connecticut residents with heart conditions, diabetes and other health problems that could make them more susceptible to the coronavirus will be eligible to vote by absentee ballot, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced Wednesday.
Health care workers and first responders also qualify, she said.
Merrill released her interpretation of the state’s absentee ballot laws, which she called the most restrictive in the country. The laws limit absentee ballots to residents who cannot vote in person on Election Day because of illness, physical disability, military service, religious beliefs and a few other reasons.
Merrill said residents with such conditions can qualify to vote by absentee ballot using the illness exception. She also said people who may have come in contact with someone infected by the coronavirus also qualify as “ill” including health care workers, first responders and people caring for someone with health conditions that put them more at risk.
Connecticut’s primary election is Aug. 11, and the general election is Nov. 3. Merrill’s office is planning to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.
NONRESIDENT BEACH BAN
East Lyme officials have voted to ban nonresidents from the town’s three beaches beginning Memorial Day weekend, in an effort to keep beaches open by limiting crowds and allowing for social distancing.
The town’s Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved the ban during a virtual meeting Monday, The Day newspaper reported.
“This is the commission’s effort to keep the beaches open in some capacity,” Parks and Recreation Director Dave Putnam said. “Otherwise, they would have to close.”
The panel said the ban could be lifted if officials loosen social distancing restrictions. Meanwhile, the town’s popular Niantic Bay Boardwalk will continue to be open to nonresidents.
FRAUD TASK FORCE
A joint federal and state task force has been formed in Connecticut to investigate fraud related to the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.
The task force will focus on price gouging, fraud in health care and government programs, consumer and small business scams, lending scams, charity fraud and cyber fraud. Violators could face state or federal criminal prosecution or civil fines and penalties, or both.
The task force was announced by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, state Attorney General William Tong, Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. and FBI Special Agent in Charge David Sundberg.