Connecticut bans utility shutoffs amid coronavirus concerns
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials banned utilities Friday from shutting off services to customers and warned of heavy demand for absentee ballots in the state’s upcoming presidential primary as hospitals braced for more patients with the coronavirus.
Gov. Ned Lamont also said efforts to test for the virus around the state are expanding.
The utilities order applies to all electric, natural gas and water companies in the state. The Public Utility Regulatory Authority said it will be in effect during the public health and civil preparedness emergencies declared by Lamont.
“People need electricity, heat and water to stay home safely right now,” State Attorney General William Tong said.
Meanwhile, the number of positive coronavirus tests is continuing to grow in Connecticut. Dr. Matthew Cartter, the state epidemiologist, said a total of 11 state residents have so far been diagnosed as having been infected with COVID-19, including a Greenwich man, between the ages of 20 and 30, who is currently in Utah. The latest positive cases were in the western part of the state. But Cartter said Connecticut officials were informed Friday that a Rhode Island child who attended a daycare in Mystic has tested positive. That daycare has since closed and officials are contacting families who used the facility.
Cartter noted the “eastern part of the state has been relatively untouched” until now.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.
Lamont, a Democrat, said Friday that the state’s scope of testing for the new coronavirus is expanding.
The capacity at the state lab has doubled and samples are now being sent out-of-state to private labs, he said during a news conference at Americares headquarters in Stamford. Lamont said he expects various hospitals across the state will be able to soon conduct testing as well.
’Our choke point, as you know, has actually been able to test and evaluate,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that in the very near future, in the next few days, a number of hospitals are going to be greenlighted to testing as well (by the federal government).”
Also, individuals with a doctor’s order can now be tested for a number of respiratory viruses, potentially including COVID-19 at Bristol Hospital’s new outdoor collection as of Friday. Bristol joins Waterbury Hospital and Greenwich Hospital in accepting specimens. Patients will not receive results at these locations.
Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Friday she believes absentee ballots should be made available to any presidential primary voter who wants to avoid a polling place because of COVID-19.
Current state law restricts absentee ballots to voters who can’t go to the polls because of illness or being out-of-town during polling hours. Merrill said she has asked Lamont to issue an executive order to eliminate that restriction during this public health emergency. Merrill’s opinion only applies to the April 28 presidential primary.
Merrill has warned cities and towns they should expect heavy demand for presidential primary absentee ballots, given the virus. The ballots will not be available until April 7 and cannot be ordered by the cities and towns until March 24, under a state law that determines when Merrill can set the ballot order.
SENATORS CALL FOR ACTION
U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, called Friday on Congress to approve additional aid to help families weather the outbreak, such as paid sick leave and increased unemployment benefits.
Speaking at a health center in Hartford, the two Democrats said the aid needs to be approved immediately and criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for sending the Senate home for the weekend.
“We should be in Congress right now passing an emergency bill to make sure that the families here in Hartford, who are going to have tot take time off work ... don’t face economic ruin,” Murphy said. “For many families here in Hartford and all across the state, if you miss one paycheck you are on the brink of financial ruin.”
The senators also called on President Trump to declare a national emergency, which he did Friday afternoon. They said the declaration would help expand and speed up testing for COVID-19.
MORE CANCELLATIONS AND CLOSURES
Newly added to the list of cancellations and closings around the state due to public health concerns are the popular Daffodil Festival in Meriden, which was scheduled for April 25 and 26, and the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, which plans to close Saturday and reopen April 1.
The list also includes schools and colleges around the state that have closed, sports and entertainment events that have been canceled and tourist attractions that have shut down temporarily including the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed to this report.