Officials are working behind the scenes to develop a plan to start to reopen Connecticut — tentatively sometime in June — as the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Gov. Ned Lamont made the economic reopening the focus of his Thursday afternoon briefing, bringing in Indra Nooyi and Yale’s Dr. Albert Ko via teleconference to give the state an update on what the reopen Connecticut committee has worked on.
The governor prefaced the daily news conference with the latest grim statistics: 95 more deaths since Wednesday for a total of 1,639 fatalities statewide. But an encouraging sign was the net decrease of 25 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Nooyi — the retired chair and CEO of PepsiCo and top business executive leading the efforts to reopen the state — said the committee to reopen Connecticut has been brainstorming ways to “selectively” reopen the economy when the time comes.
“We are never, ever going to not focus on public health,” Nooyi said. She estimated the state will start to reopen in June, but will do it “very carefully and in small steps.”
Nooyi is working on this advisory group alongside Dr. Albert Ko — a professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine.
From a science perspective, Ko said, there needs to be extensive testing to protect the “critical and vulnerable citizens” in the community.
Testing, he said, will also help with better decision making in terms of the economy and schools.
“This is a highly transmissible virus. We’re concerned about the reemergence,” of the virus, Ko said.
Those who are sick and symptomatic will continue to be prioritized for testing, Ko said, followed by health care workers and nursing home workers.
“We need to test, intensively, the health care workers,” Ko said.
Lamont brought in the duo, who also represent Connecticut in the seven-state region along with Paul Mounds, the governor’s chief of staff, for what will become weekly updates as the necessities of public health mesh with the state’s ability to restart an economy that has resulted in a loss of jobs for a third of Connecticut’s workforce, led by 150,000 bar, restaurant and hotel workers.
Ko also said that the controversial therapy of using the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, once touted by President Donald Trump, seems to be refuted.
“First of all, with current medical knowledge, we don’t have evidence of the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine on the outcomes,” Ko said. “Coming from the medical research side of things, evidence is really important. If we don’t have high, rigorous evidence, we can have patients taking unsafe medications and unsafe therapies and actually having bad outcomes because of safety issues without demonstration of effectiveness.”
Earlier in the day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, for suggesting that states in fiscal trouble as a result of the coronavirus should declare bankruptcy. Cuomo noted that while New York state is a net contributor to the federal government by $116 billion a year, Kentucky, McConnell’s state, takes from the government about $148 billion more than it gives.
Asked to comment on the continued push and pull between the states and Washington, Lamont said Connecticut, like New York, is a net contributor of $7 billion to $8 billion.
“We are definitely a donor state,” Lamont said. “And that’s remarkable when you realize that until recently we averaged a trillion-dollar (federal) deficit. If we had our share of that, that would be tens of billions of dollars. That just gives you an idea of the disconnect between how much Kentucky gets and how much Connecticut doesn’t get.”
During a teleconference call earlier in the day with members of the Danbury Chamber of Commerce and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Lamont and David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development said hospitals have been saved from surging beyond their capacity.
“The worst that we can do is backtrack on this,” Boughton said, stressing the need to continue social distancing and business closures for the time being in the pandemic, which has resulted in 1,366 COVID-19 patients in Danbury, 66 of whom have died.
“It’s going to crawl, walk, run in terms of the economy,” Lamont said.