Gov. Ned Lamont is concerned that social media-fueled misinformation is inflaming some segments of the population, and he wants to put an end to harmful gossip about things that aren’t true, such as the imminent closure of liquor stores and deploying the National Guard to enforce martial law.
Speaking Friday morning on a northeastern Connecticut radio station, he warned that the rumors are not helping the public cope with the crisis.
Speaking in reaction to a question from morning host Dave Ward on WINY, an AM station in Putnam, Lamont said that it would be a good idea to develop a new hotline similar to the sometimes-overwhelmed 211 phone line, to provide information and dispel such rumors.
“Tell us what that misinformation is on our hotline, then we can tell you what the facts are,” in attempt to derail gossip, Lamont said. “Obviously social media is a rumor mill,” Lamont said in a 15-minute on-air appearance. “Yesterday our 211 calls were ‘shutting down the state.’”
Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said that rumors range from the closing of liquor stores, to a full state-ordered shelter-in-place director with the Connecticut National Guard deployed to enforce martial law.
At around noon, Lamont’s Twitter page included a “Rumor Control” post: “Myth: The National Guard and police are preparing for a federal/state lockdown of citizens in their homes. Fact: This is not true. There is no such discussion or plans for that. The @CTNationalGuard has been leading the effort to deploy and build field hospitals.”
While schools are officially set to reopen after April 20, it’s most likely the closure will last longer, he said, adding that he expects an announcement soon on the issue from the state Department of Education.
Lamont said that the western side of the state will reach its peak infection rate in coming weeks, with the eastern half to follow; and state residents should receive their $1,200 disaster relief checks within the next 10 days or so.
The latest amendment to Lamont’s executive order limiting the use of hotels and short-stay rentals to essential personnel, was also aimed at possibly discouraging out-of-staters from booking the facilities in the pandemic. He apologized for the hit that southeastern Connecticut tourism will take in the order.
“It’s about vacationers,” Lamont said. “It’s about folks who are renting hotel rooms or short-term rentals on Airbnb. We’re just worried that there are an awful lot of people coming from very infected parts of the state and parts of the region coming up to other places. And we want to stop that. You know it follows the president’s dictate when he had the travel advisory, stay at home. Right now those short-term rentals are only for essential personnel. Those are public health workers and others who really need that space.”
Lamont said he was interested in a possible issue facing truck and bus drivers who need to renew their Commercial Driver’s Licenses in person at DMV offices that are currently closed in the response to the pandemic. While personal driver’s licenses up for renewal have been extended, Lamont admitted he had not yet thought about the requirements for CDL holders, many of whom are essential personnel, especially truck and public transit drivers.
“It makes all the sense in the world,” Lamont said. “We’re doing what we can to make sure you don’t feel like you have to go out to the DMV, especially if you are a senior, especially if you’re over 65.”
In other pandemic developments, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut announced on Friday that it is suing the state in an attempt to force emergency action against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic into prisons and jails.
The suit is on the behalf of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and four men behind bars, one of whom has an autoimmune issue, another who is over 60, another who is scheduled for release next month and a fourth who has one lung and is being held for want of $5,000.
The suit will try to force the immediate release of people based on illness and risk factors; held on lesser charges or low bond; or within six months of release. Currently, the DOC reports that 16 guards and eight inmates have been tested positive for COVID-19.