Two mayors of hard-hit Fairfield County cities joined Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday to stress the need to continue the social distancing and business closures that seem to be flattening the curve in the coronavirus pandemic.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said politicizing the issue does little at a time when the western half of the state has not yet reached its peak of infections.
“I think there’s time for politics later on,” said Boughton, a Republican who lost the party’s 2018 primary for governor. “Right now this is about healing our state, healing our nation, if you will. There is really no value in sniping at each other. I think the governor has struck a solid path.”
“I agree with Mayor Boughton,” Rilling told reporters. “You know we’re all in this together. We’re part of history. This is something that none of us has ever experienced before. We were the epicenter, Fairfield County. We hit the ground running and I think we’re leading the charge because we had to do that early on.”
Boughton said he’d love to be able to restart business and schools, but there’s too much at stake if the virus gets worse. “We can’t quit,” he said. “We want to open. We have to open and we have to do it safely. And that’s the most important thing as we look forward together. We can’t backslide.”
Lamont Tuesday announced another 69 fatalities in the coronavirus pandemic, for a total of 671.
“These are not numbers,” Lamont said, haltingly during his daily afternoon news conference in the state Capitol. “These are friends and family of our ... here in Connecticut. I ... feel that everyday.”
Hospital admissions decreased over a few days. Connecticut had a net increase of 19 patients Tuesday for a total of 1,779. That relatively low increase was mostly because discharges are up, Lamont said. Over the last five days, the number of hospital admissions have been decreasing. “That’s an indication that perhaps the infection rate was receding a little bit,” he said. “It popped up a little bit on April 13.”
The state has not released daily data on hospital discharges.
The total number of people testing positive stood at 13,989 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, up by 608 from Monday. That increase was less than in some recent days but Lamont warned that the number of new tests — 1,532 for a total of 45,841 — is also down.
Boughton, whose city had the state’s first COVID-19 case about six weeks ago at Danbury Hospital, agreed the pandemic is historic. “Look, this is uncharted territory for any mayor, any first selectman. It’s been remarkable to watch local government move forward and address a difficult issue,” he said. “And it shows government works.”
Boughton said he was surprised at the virulence and contagious nature of the virus, particularly its effect on the elderly and nursing homes. Lamont drew some optimism from the fact that only a net 19-patient increase in hospitalizations occurred since Monday, but he and the mayors agreed that the current course, keeping an eye on the daily hospital caseload while creating a strategy for normalization, is the right course of action.
Via video, the two mayors joined the governor’s daily hourlong news briefing in the state Capitol, answering questions from reporters after voicing support for the governor, who has been a target of criticism from President Donald Trump, some business owners and several in-state Republicans. Boughton noted the formation this week of a council with representatives of the seven-state region makes sense.
Danbury’s proximity to New York state has to be fully considered, Boughton said. He said the strategic partnership Danbury has with Putnam County, just over the border. “We have to work closely with New York state, otherwise it’s just not going to make any sense, the things that we’re doing,” he said during the hour-long event.
Lamont has ordered the shutdown of non-essential businesses until May 20, when he expects more test results and personal protective equipment. “That will give us a lot stronger indication about who and when and how people can start getting to work,” he said, stressing that a lot of federal aid will keep flowing into the state until July 1.
Rilling said every one of the 36 deaths in Norwalk affects the entire city. “It’s a member of your community,” he said, noting that the surrounding towns of Westport, Darien, New Canaan and Wilton regularly visit the city to shop. Thousands of city residents are employed in New York and come back home to Connecticut.
“We know the social or physical distancing is the most-effective way and we have to continue that,” Rilling said. “The biggest mistake we can make right now is to go back and be complacent and get a false sense of security that this is over. This is not over. I agree May 20 is a date that needs to be looked at, as to what we do going forward.”
Rilling said the pandemic has no political affiliation. “There is no Republican or Democratic way to deal with this pandemic,” he said. “It’s talking to each other, moving forward together, putting aside any differences that we have, listening to each other, and like I said, learning from each other.”
“As you know, President Trump has put out the date of May 1, which I think most of the governors think is very premature,” Lamont said. “Hospitalizations are going up and infections are going up and this is no time to take our eye off the ball.”
He’s worried about “spring fever” possibly distracting people from the need to keep social distancing over the next month.
Lamont said that with an emergency budget reserve of $2.5 billion, he’s confident that the state’s annual $21-billion budget will be able to survive the sharp decrease in revenue that will accompany the unemployment surge that is about 15 percent now and could reach 20 percent.
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