Masks

PT Partners hold its monthly PT Barnum food distribution event in Bridgeport.

Gov. Ned Lamont says as the weather warms and the coronavirus continues its first sweep through the state, it’s time to start wearing face masks in public.

“When you get in a crowd, put on a mask,” Lamont said Wednesday. “If you’re in a store, wear a mask. That’s the rule.”

Lamont’s guidance on masks came on the same day he announced a large bump in fatalities, 197 new deaths in Connecticut, the result of a catching up in the collection of data on coronavirus fatalities.

The increase brings the number of deaths to 868 on a day when the new numbers muddied the picture of whether the state is at or near a peak of cases.

Twenty-seven of the new fatalities occurred in state hospitals, Lamont said, stressing that the remainder were people who died in their homes, or whose COVID-related causes were classified in subsequent findings by the chief medical examiner.

Although Lamont said the large increase in deaths reflected the choppy way data comes into the state Department of Health, net new hospitalizations were also up — by 129, for a total of 1,908 patients currently in Connecticut hospitals being treated for COVID-19. That number is the difference between new admissions and discharges, and had been below 100 in most recent days until an uptick Monday.

Hospitalizations appeared to have flattened, but have turned back upward in Fairfield County, where most cases are still located.

Earlier in the day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised an executive order requiring everyone in his state to wear masks in places where they are close to others, from sidewalks to stores and mass transit.

Lamont said he would issue a similar order on Thursday or Friday. Correct use of the masks includes covering the nose mouth and chin tightly and avoiding touching the front of mask with your hands when taking them off.

“If you’re walking around and you need a bit of space, you’re going up to a group of people there, just put on your mask,” Lamont said during his daily news briefing in the State Capitol. “Anybody coming into that particular facility, starting with grocery stores, has to wear a mask,” Lamont said. “I think this is the way that we’re going to get this virus behind us sooner and make sure that we can get everybody back to work as soon as we possibly can.”

Stressing “clarity and urgency,” the governor wants customers and workers to wear masks of nearly any kind, from scarves and bandanas, to homemade face gear, when they are not physically distancing themselves at least six feet from others, particularly in supermarkets, to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m afraid that masks are a big part of that, so we’re going to be very clear in our executive order about what that involves,” Lamont said. “When you get in a crowd put on a mask. In terms of our employers, they’re out there trying to get masks anyway they can and if they can’t get masks, then I think it’s time for their employees to at least put on a scarf or some other way that they can provide protection for themselves and others.”

He wants medical-grade N95 masks to be dedicated to front-line healthcare workers.

Lamont said he would encourage first selectmen and mayors who have closed local parks because of public failures at social distancing, to consider that they ban vehicles on some local roads to turn them into pedestrian boulevards as the weather gets warmer. Shutting parks and beaches just confines people further, he said.

The governor admitted that he would love to open up the state, but until the coronavirus subsides, public health has to be important. “I’ve got to ask people to tough it out a little bit longer,” he said, predicting that it could be as long as a year before a vaccine is created.

During the governor’s 70-minute event, state Insurance Commissioner Andrew N. Mais said that low-income state residents without health insurance have until Friday to sign up for the state’s version of the Affordable Care Act, through Access Health CT.

He said state insurance carriers will cover all expenses for COVID cases, from testing to treatment, with no deductible or copay.

Mais also announced that MassMutual is offering free $25,000 life insurance policies for employees of hospitals, emergency medical services and urgent care centers, aged 18 to 50 for the next three years. Those aged 51 to 60 will get free $10,000 policies. Further details are on the Insurance Department’s website.

Kurt Westby, the labor commissioner, said that a technical fix to the state’s ancient computer system allows a now-beefed-up staff to make progress in the five-to-six-week backlog of unemployment claims. “I think that’s going to put a very big dent into the group of claims that we haven’t addressed yet,” Westby said. He said the goal in addressing the hundreds of thousands of claims is to reduce the process time to a week.

Earlier in the day, Lamont, estimating that the coronavirus pandemic has already cost the state $500 million and could rise to $1.5 billion, asked President Trump to provide more federal support for Connecticut’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, above and beyond the $2.4 trillion approved nationwide by Congress.

“The size and scope of this public health emergency is unprecedented,” the governor said in a statement. “The president has acknowledged this in declaring a major disaster in every state in the nation. If approved, this request would bring much needed additional financial assistance to the state and our municipalities.”

The governor is seeking more money for state residents, as well as 100-percent funding for public expenditures that are currently eligible for 75-percent federal support for local and state costs, plus the tribal nations. Such an award would supplement the funding available through President Trump’s March 27 disaster declaration.

Lamont also asked for similar funding increases for other states.