Here are some recent stories you might have missed from around Connecticut:

Drive-by Birthdays

ctmagCarParade-0130.jpg

Mandy Fredricksen of Wallingford enjoys socially-distanced birthday wishes.

Traditional birthday celebrations are a thing of the past, at least for the time being. One of the trends that has emerged during the pandemic is surprise car parties, where people are brought out onto their driveways and front lawns to watch a parade of decorated vehicles pass by with horns honking.

One up-close observer of this new ritual was Wallingford’s Mandy Fredricksen, a registered nurse in a trauma surgery unit at Yale New Haven Hospital that became a COVID-19 hybrid unit. She turned 24 in April, and her parents arranged for friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to provide a drive-by surprise.

“I’m really extroverted, so it was a bummer that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to see all my friends on my birthday like normal. And even my family, too,” says Fredricksen, who graduated from Quinnipiac and began her nursing career in October. But seeing her street come alive with honking cars was just what she needed. “I was pumped. I was excited.”

The doctor is in vogue

Fauci1.jpg

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is quite possibly the most famous American doctor since New Haven’s own Benjamin Spock. He has legions of fans across the nation and here in Connecticut. Milford’s Joanne Walsh, a newly retired former CEO of several state home-care agencies, is devoting her time to recognizing the efforts of Dr. Fauci, whose leadership she has admired since the HIV epidemic. She had just retired when the coronavirus pandemic began, and felt sidelined and anxious to help. Walsh headed up a group and launched American Hero Novelty to sell Dr. Fauci shirts ($17.99-$19.99) and mugs ($16.99) — printed in Connecticut — with all profits going to a charity of Dr. Fauci’s choice.

US-NEWS-CORONAVIRUS-FAUCI-DOLL-MCT

The New England Toy company is also in on the Fauci fandom. The Simsbury business is selling 12-inch soft plush toy Dr. Faucis clad in a superhero cape for $25, with $5 from every toy donated to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center COVID-19 Emergency Fund and the 4-CT Connecticut COVID-19 Charity Connection. The cape is removable and sports a custom-designed face mask logo and “F” for Fauci. 

As you see, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time

In this ever-changing, coronavirus-charged climate, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen at the state’s beaches and other communal nature attractions this summer. And there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution: After a beautiful and balmy weekend in early May, some towns, such as East Lyme, barred non-residents from their beaches; while others raised fees for non-residents, as Stamford did; or are requiring proof of residency, as in the case of Madison — all in the interest of reducing crowd sizes and limiting the spread of the virus.But one thing seems certain: Even if some or all beaches are open, it won’t be business as usual. You’re likely to see plenty of masks, and physical distancing will still be with us, as we saw when a group on Stamford’s Cove Island Beach drew a literal line in the sand to keep people from getting too close. 

078EA2C3CB3E1A232612FA5FC39DBA9F.jpg

A group of people practiced social distancing by marking their area in the sand at Cove Island Beach in Stamford in early May.

Deadly B-17 crash update

The Federal Aviation Administration was critical of safety procedures employed by Collings Foundation, which operated the World War II B-17G that crashed at Bradley International Airport on Oct. 2, killing seven. In a report released this spring, the FAA revoked Collings Foundation’s license to carry passengers on its historic aircraft.

The report found that there were problems with two of the four engines on the aircraft that crashed and that Collings, a nonprofit based in Stowe, Massachusetts, failed to meet FAA safety criteria in several ways. The report found “notable maintenance discrepancies existed with the B-17G, yet the Collings director of maintenance signed inspection records — dated as recently as Sept. 23, 2019 — indicating no findings of discrepancies.”

The report adds, “No records or evidence of the completion of periodic audits exist with regard to this aircraft. In addition, the pilot in command of the B-17G was also the director of maintenance; as a result, Collings did not have a structure to ensure adequate oversight of his decisions to conduct passenger-carrying operations such as the Oct. 2 flight. This indicates Collings lacked a safety culture when operating the B-17G.” The plane’s crew chief did receive required training for his position.

Searching high and low for COVID-19

sewer shutterstock_423738481.jpg

Yale researchers led by Jordan Peccia, professor of environmental engineering, are studying an innovative, if somewhat unpleasant, way to track COVID-19’s spread through communities: monitoring the virus in sewage. “Testing individuals for SARS-CoV-2 in the population is logistically difficult and impractical,” Peccia said during a presentation on the research posted to Yale School of Medicine’s website. “Without the ability to test every person in the population every day or in a rapid period of time, we need to think of some other alternatives.”

Peccia is investigating whether viruses occurring in the population can be monitored by wastewater analysis. He and his team have collected daily samples from New Haven’s East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility, which processes 40 million gallons of sewage a day, and serves East Haven, Hamden and Woodbridge in addition to New Haven. The team has also been collecting samples from other New Haven sites including Yale New Haven Hospital buildings.

“There is SARS-CoV-2 in sewage sludge,” he says in the presentation. His team has been extracting RNA from the sludge to determine the concentration of coronavirus within it. They are comparing those numbers to confirmed coronavirus cases and trying to estimate an accurate number of cases within the New Haven population. “If we can start to develop some ideas about the true concentrations in sludge versus our best estimates about caseloads, then we can use sludge for a proxy to understand the progression and wane of the epidemic,” he says. “In a worst-case scenario, we can sample when we show no cases, or when we think the caseload is very small, to confirm that it is small or to confirm that it is large.”

Universal remote

shutterstock_1682451694 [Converted]

Since the reality of the coronavirus crisis truly hit home in mid-March, working from home has been a requirement for many of us. A recent WalletHub study finds that Connecticut sits in the middle of the road overall in its ranking of the best states in which to work remotely. The personal finance website used 12 metrics to reach its conclusions, including internet access, cybersecurity, price of electricity and median square footage per average number of persons in a household. The pandemic hugely accelerated a trend already being seen in recent years, and experts predict that, even when it’s deemed safe for offices to be fully open again, remote work — and all that increased home internet usage — is here to stay.

ELECTRICITY COSTS: #47

On average, electricity prices here are the fifth-most expensive in the country

LIVING ENVIRONMENT: #39

Factors include cost of electricity, cost and availability of high-speed internet, and average home size and square footage per person

WORK ENVIRONMENT: #13

Based on share of potential telecommuters, access to broadband internet, and rate of internet crime per capita

BROADBAND ACCESS: #1

98.7% of Connecticut households — the highest in the nation —have access to broadband over 25 Mbps (Mississippi is lowest at 65.4%)

OVERALL WORK-FROM-HOME RANKING FOR CONNECTICUT: #24

This article appeared in the June 2020 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram@connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.

The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.

Albie Yuravich is the editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine. A product of the Naugatuck River Valley, he's also been a newspaper editor and writer at the New Haven Register, Greenwich Time, The Register Citizen and the Republican-American.