Here are some recent news stories you may have missed from around Connecticut.
Hockey’s ‘Grandma Marge’ goes viral
When pro hockey player Cam Atkinson plays his first game with the Philadelphia Flyers this month, his grandmother will be in attendance. While Stamford’s Marge Robben, 87, will of course be there to support her grandson, she’s also promoting her own T-shirt line.
After being traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to Philadelphia, Atkinson sent a Flyers jersey with his name on it to his grandmother. Wanting to post a proud-grandma selfie to Twitter, Robben wore the jersey backward so his name could be visible in a photo. Atkinson retweeted the photo and it went viral.
“I got 2,500 responses from Flyers fans,” Robben said in a release. “I was answering questions all day long. The ‘Twitter calls’ kept coming over two days. The Flyers fan base is incredible. They sent me the most beautiful messages.”
Then Flyers management got involved. They created a merchandise line devoted to Robben, featuring a series of T-shirts that show a photo of Robben wearing her grandson’s jersey backward. “Grandma Marge” and her clothing line are gaining quite the following among Flyers fans.
On Oct. 15, Robben will be at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, with the Flyers’ mascot, Gritty, and perhaps taking a ride on the Zamboni. “It’s going to be so much fun. I can’t wait,” Robben said.
What’s really covered under HIPAA
When Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing local health directors, doctors and school nurses access to the vaccination records of every Connecticut resident, it was not a violation of HIPAA.
John Cogan, an assistant professor of law at the University of Connecticut, said that while, “People get all wigged out about the release of medical information,” they often don’t understand what the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act does and does not allow.
Prior to taking his post at UConn’s School of Law, Cogan worked for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, where he was involved in drafting the HIPAA privacy provisions. He said those regulations are often misinterpreted, and assumed to cast a far wider net than they were intended to cover. “The privacy regulations were designed to limit the use and disclosure of protected health information under certain circumstances by a limited number of entities,” he said.
HIPAA, Cogan explained, only applies to very specific groups of people. Doctors, for example, and health insurance companies, are prohibited by law from sharing a patient’s personal medical information without the person’s consent. The law does not prevent the state Department of Public Health from sharing medical data. Neither does it prevent anyone from sharing your personal, medical data, except those specific groups.
“If I’m walking down the street, and I find all your medical records in a box, I can give them to whoever I want,” Cogan said. “That is not a violation of HIPAA because I am not a covered entity under HIPAA.”
The mountain lion debate continues
Are there mountain lions in Connecticut? It’s a question we’ve asked in these pages several times over the years. The answer, now, as then, depends on whom you ask. Soula Rizo said she saw one in the backyard of her New Canaan home. The animal “looked very strong,” and “like a huge cat,” as she told Hearst Connecticut Media late this summer. She said it had a “flat face,” was beige and grayish in color and strutted with “a long tail curled up.” Rizo said she sees coyotes and foxes often, “but not an animal like this.”
It was the first of several such sightings in the area. Animal Control officer Allyson Halm said in August that there were four mountain lion sightings on the New Canaan-Norwalk border.
Rizo said she’d seen almost no small mammals on her property in the days preceding the sighting, which Halm said would make sense. “I would associate the drop in population of small mammals with the increased population of all our predators — fox, coyote and bobcat. Small mammals are their staple,” Halm said. “Mountain lions are transient,” she said, adding that the big cats “thrive on deer.”
There are confirmed bobcats in Connecticut, but cougars are a different story. The last confirmed big cat sighting was in 2011, when a young, male cougar was killed in Connecticut after traveling roughly 1,500 miles from South Dakota. State wildlife officials maintain that there is no permanent mountain lion population in Connecticut.
But what do you believe?
The last hurricane to hit Connecticut
Quick: When was the last time we actually had a hurricane in Connecticut? Not a tropical storm, not a depression, not the remnants of what was a hurricane down South, but an actual hurricane, with a name, making landfall in Connecticut. Here’s the answer: 36 years ago, in late September 1985 when Gloria tore through.
That’s not to say we haven’t had impactful tropical storms. Quite the opposite, according to Gary Lessor, of Western Connecticut State University’s Weather Center. “Seems like we’re getting tropical storm after tropical storm,” he said. There was Fred, Henri, Elsa and, at the start of September, the powerful remnants of Ida. But, by the time they made it to Connecticut, “None of these were hurricanes,” Lessor said. “You could go decades between hurricane strikes in Connecticut without a doubt.” There was hurricane Bob in 1991 but, as Lessor noted, it made landfall in Rhode Island: “Gloria was the last true direct-landfall Connecticut hurricane.”
Thirty-six years isn’t the record, but it’s getting close. There was a 45-year, hurricane-free period in Connecticut, between 1894 and 1938.
Finding our power animal
When the power goes out, it’s caused by a downed tree, right? Not always. Back when Tropical Storm Henri was making its way through the state in August, a power outage affecting about 900 residences in Danbury was unrelated to the storm. It was a squirrel. Apparently, animal-related power outages are pretty common in Connecticut. “Animal and bird contacts with our equipment represented about 16 percent of all electric system impacts last year, or 2,324 contacts affecting customers in Connecticut,” Eversource said in a statement.
It’s often a squirrel, and it’s often during or after a storm. The animals seek new accommodations after trees are downed by high winds. For example, in October 2017, 9,533 customers — 16 percent of the 58,000 customers in Stamford — lost power because of a squirrel. “Squirrels are very active this time of year,” an Eversource spokesperson said then.
How ten-pin bowling began
It’s been said that 10-pin bowling began in Connecticut. It may or may not be true.
Back in the 1800s, bowling (then called “ninepins”) was a popular sport with gamblers. So, in 1841, the state passed a law banning ninepin alleys. The fine for operating an illegal ninepin alley was no less than $7 and no more than $50 ($50 in 1841 would be about $1,500 today).
“The legend goes that because of some forward-thinkers trying to circumvent this law, 10-pin bowling was founded,” Kari Smith, curator and program manager of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas, says in an email.
There is some truth to the story. A law was passed in 1841 banning nine-pin bowling, but Smith says they use the word “legend” because “we aren’t sure if the transition to 10-pin in the Northeastern U.S. was directly related to this law or not.” She added, “One reason is that there is evidence to suggest that there were earlier instances of 10-pin bowling, predating the Connecticut law.”
The law did make some exceptions. Town governments were allowed to approve alleys if they so chose, and while the law did specify “ninepin alleys,” legislators at the time anticipated the addition or removal of pins to skirt the letter of the law. The law bans “a place for playing bowls, skittles, or ninepins, whether more or less than ninepins.”