By Keith M, Phaneuf and Gregory B. Hladky
Gov. Ned Lamont warned today he is reconsidering reopening bars in mid-July as new data shows the coronavirus spreading quickly in other parts of the nation, including in states that border the Northeast.
And while surging caseloads in the nation’s major southern and western states dominate the headlines, Lamont also acknowledged the spread is creeping closer to Connecticut, with rising infections in Ohio and other Rust Belt states.
“I would probably say I’m rethinking that [after] looking at what’s going on in other states,” Lamont said of the planned reopening of bars in Phase 3 of his economic road map for Connecticut, adding he likely would have more to say after July 4. “You hope for the best and you plan for the worst.”
Besides reopening bars and amusement parks in mid-July, the administration’s plan currently calls for limits on indoor gatherings to grow in about two weeks from 25 people to 50. The limit on outdoor gatherings would jump from 100 to 250.
Lamont already has carved out an early exception to the mid-July outdoor limit for fireworks. Effective July 3, groups as large as 500 can gather outdoors for these demonstrations, provided groups of guests are spread at least 15 feet apart.
Connecticut has been gradually phasing in its economic reopening since May 20. Restaurants, limited to takeout only service during the peak of the outbreak, are allowed limited indoor service, with proper spacing and masks, though patrons are urged to sit and eat outdoors if possible.
Many other states reopened weeks before Connecticut, and several large states in the South and West — including California, Texas, and Florida — have made national headlines over the past week for record increases in infections.
But new data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center shows several key states have begun to trend in the wrong direction.
The rolling, three-day average for new infections in Ohio was 381 on June 13, and had more than doubled to 886 by June 27. In Pennsylvania, new infections jumped from 452 to 574 over the same period. In Michigan — which connects quickly to upper New York state via Canada — rose from 202 new daily infections to 319 during those two weeks.
The governor said any decision about stalling phase three of the reopening would be strongly influenced by COVID-19 data in neighboring states.
“Obviously if I saw something in Massachusetts or New York that was very disturbing it would certainly give me pause,” he said. “Our state tends to walk in parallel with some of our neighbors.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced today on Twitter he was suspending the planned reopening of indoor dining later this week.
The administration also is stepping up efforts to safeguard its provisions of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operations officer, in case the state sees another surge in cases.
The administration hopes to create a 90-day stockpile of PPE by the end of July to supplement reserves that hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care and medical facilities are now seeking to build up.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Geballe said today of the possibility that Connecticut could suffer another surge of virus cases this summer or fall.
Connecticut suffered serious shortages of PPE like N95 and surgical masks, gowns, gloves and face shields at nursing homes and some hospitals during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic during April and May. There were major backups in the supply chains for many of those items during that period.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health care groups have emphasized the importance of rolling seven-day averages when predicting new surges in coronavirus infections, but Johns Hopkins University has been tracking COVID-19 data worldwide using a rolling three-day average, a method which has its advantages and disadvantages.
On one hand, a three-day average could more easily be distorted by a one-day spike or plunge in cases. But because less data is required, it also could highlight new trends more quickly.
Dr. Majid Sadigh, director of global health for Nuvance Health, the chain that owns four hospitals in southwestern Connecticut and three in New York, said there is some merit to the three-day projections, adding that many underestimate the virus’ potential to spread quickly from other regions in the U.S. into the Northeast.
“This virus is like a river flowing downhill,” he said. “It is not inactive.”
The coronavirus likely is spreading most quickly right now among youth and young adults, who are seeking to enjoy summer vacation — and are more likely to have either few or no symptoms.
“Right now the virus is among people who are going to the beaches, who are going to the bars,” Sadigh said, adding its potential to move quickly out of California, Texas or other hot-spot states is great if people continue to underestimate it. “We can also say with certainty this is not a seasonal virus. If we suspect it’s going to give us a break during the summer, and that it will give us time to prepare for the fall, we are wrong.”
Speaking on a podcast by Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Leana Wen, public health professor at George Washington University, said public misunderstanding about the virus — and about the practicality of economic reopening — remains high.
“This was never meant to be a one-way street, that now that we are on the path to reopening, that that’s just how it’s going to be,” Wen said, adding public officials need to better explain this process must be “dialed back” from time to time. “I don’t think policymakers have been messaging about that dialing at all, and I also worry that people have been letting down their guard.
“This virus is still there,” Wen added. “It’s just as contagious as it was before.”