Coronavirus News: Connecticut eyes June to reopen businesses

HARTFORD, Connecticut (WABC) -- Connecticut could possibly begin a multi-step process of loosening restrictions on businesses and gatherings by June, according to the co-chairman of Gov. Ned Lamont's advisory committee.

Indra Nooyi, a former CEO of Pepsi, said the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group will present the Democratic governor a list of options and considerations for reopening the state, backed with modeling data, in time for a May 20 deadline. That's when Lamont's "stay-at-home" order suspending all in-person, nonessential functions is set to expire.

"What we will do is present the plan to the governor with the priorities," Nooyi said. "I suspect that you'll see (it) in traunches...very carefully in small steps, so that our testing can keep pace with the loosening (of restrictions). We'll start sometime in June. And then keep progressing through the end of the year. "

As the advisory group, which includes local health, business, workforce, and education experts, considers how to selectively restart Connecticut's economy, Nooyi said they will keep public health concerns front and center.

As of Friday, there have been a total of 23,921 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state and 1,764 have died from the disease. The number of people hospitalized was 1,877, a decline of 70 people since Thursday.

For most people, the virus 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 or death.

In other coronavirus-related developments around Connecticut:

WESTPORT DRONE

Westport police have pulled out of a pilot program that would have used a drone to detect COVID-19 symptoms in people and monitor social distancing in town, after receiving criticism and hearing residents' concerns.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas said Thursday that town officials reconsidered and decided not to take part in the program by drone manufacturer Draganfly Inc., in collaboration with the University of South Australia. The program would have been the company's first in the U.S.

The drone would have been equipped with sensors and computer systems that Draganfly says can detect people's temperatures, their heart and respiratory rates and whether they are sneezing or coughing, as well as measure social distancing.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut raised privacy concerns.

"Towns and the state should be wary of self-interested, privacy-invading companies using COVID-19 as a chance to market their products and create future business opportunities," said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut.

FACE SHIELDS IN PRISONS

The Connecticut Department of Correction says inmates at the Cheshire Correctional Institution this week began manufacturing face shields for staff in the prison system. Department spokeswoman Karen Martucci says about 200 shields have been made so far and will be sent first to staff at the Northern Correctional Institution, where inmates with COVID-19 have been transferred to be held in isolation.

The shields are in addition to the 50,000 cloth masks inmates have made. Martucci says those have been sent to every prison in the state for use by staff and inmates. She says inmates in prison dorms, where social isolation is a challenge, are required to wear those masks.

As of Thursday, 338 inmates and 256 staff had tested positive for the coronavirus. Martucci says 140 inmates are currently at Northern and 11 are in hospitals.

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said Thursday his office has now processed more than 80% of the unemployment claims filed since March 13, cutting checks worth more than $230 million since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The state agency had received 402,000 applications, some of which were duplicates. That represents more than two years of normal claim activity. As of Thursday, Westby said 327,000 had been processed.

"We're processing over 30,000 claims per week manually and we've provided over $230 million in benefits checks since COVID began. Think about that," he said during a conference call with reporters. "Just two months ago, we were processing about 3,000 claims a week. That was the norm."

Westby said DOL has quadrupled staff and they've been working overtime and weekends. The massive surge in unemployment applications was compounded by the fact Connecticut has a 40-year computer system that was in the process of being replaced with the pandemic hit. He said computer software developers and programmers devised a technical fix to automate the claims processing, which he said had never been done before with Connecticut's aging system.

Meanwhile, he said a system for processing the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits should be up and running by April 27, while the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the self-employed is expected to be up and running by April 30th.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

The organization that oversees high school sports in Connecticut says spring sports could be played if schools reopen, but would only take place in the month of June. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference also decided Thursday to cancel all spring state championship tournaments. The CIAC says athletes will be required to have at least 10 days of practice or conditioning before any competition resumes, but says five of those conditioning days may occur at home.

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