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Town Closing, Minimizing Access To Public Facilities To Limit COVID-19 Spread



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Within about an hour’s time late Friday, March 13, Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Governor Ned Lamont both briefed the press on updates in the face of the COVID-19 virus situation.

Since The Newtown Bee’s update around the same time a day earlier, state officials announced that a total of 11 Connecticut residents had tested positive for the novel coronavirus including one who is currently in Utah. The latest cases are in Bethlehem, Darien, Greenwich, and Westport.

According to State Epidemiologist Dr Matthew Cartter, the Bethlehem case involves a family transmission between a woman between the age of 30-40 and a man age 60-70, the Westport case is a man age 40-50, the Darien case is a male age 50-60, and a Greenwich man age 40-50, and another between age 20-30, who is now in Utah. The second Greenwich case is unrelated to the first reported earlier in the week.

He said 136 tests have been completed with 125 tests coming back negative. He said that number includes the first 21 tests processed by a private lab versus through the state’s sole lab.

Dr Cartter said the CDC has upgraded travel alerts, and the new global Level 2 alert now includes the US.

State COO Josh Geballe said the Department of Labor is working preparing updates regarding job training, job search requirements, and unemployment coverage. CTDOL is suspending the requirement that workers applying for new unemployment benefits directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic be actively searching for work.

Unemployment benefits are available to workers whose employer needs to temporarily shut down or slow down business. Employees who are furloughed by the emergency but expect to return to work can access up to at least six weeks of benefits. Employers reducing hours but not furloughing employees can partner with CTDOL’s Shared Work program, which allows employers to reduce employees’ work schedules by 10 percent to 60 percent and supplement lost wages with unemployment benefits.

Connecticut unemployment insurance already excluded the waiting period other states have removed. For a document containing a list of Frequently Asked Questions for workers and businesses regarding unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 outbreak, visit www.ctdol.state.ct.us/DOLCOVIDFAQ.PDF

CTDOL is also suspending the federal RESEA work-search program effective immediately. This program involves a more intensive process that mandates recipients of unemployment insurance go to the American Job Centers in person and receive one-on-one help. The agency anticipated serving 9,030 people this year.

Suspending this program will reduce traffic in the centers and help limit in-person contact with the public. The agency still anticipates reaching its goal of serving 9,030 people this year.

Geballe said certain telemedicine practices are being employed and expanded including with primary care for medical and behavioral health patients receiving HUSKY/Medicaid benefits. He said the state Department of Education has received a waiver from the federal government allowing students who receive meals under the school lunch program to continue receiving those meals during school closures and consume them at home.

Additionally, several state agencies are rolling out broad measures to promote social distancing that protect Connecticut residents and state employees.

Also Friday, Attorney General William Tong announced that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has granted an emergency moratorium on electric, natural gas, and water utility shut-offs in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Office of the Attorney General filed a formal petition next Thursday seeking to cease all utility service terminations for a 30 day period subject to renewal to ensure all residents may safely remain home during the epidemic.

Local Newtown Updates

Locally, Rosenthal is in the process of creating some restrictions at public facilities — from the Municipal Center and Town Hall South to other public gathering places like the Senior Center and Newtown Community Center (NCC).

While the NCC and Senior Centers remain open, Director Matt Ariniello said that is subject to change, and all activities at both those facilities have been canceled effective Saturday, March 14. Anyone who has booked private events at the NCC should contact the center’s offices for information at 203-270-4349.

The C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street, “in consultation with the Library Board of Trustees” has decided to close as of 5 pm on Saturday, March 14. It will remain closed to the public until Monday, March 30. All scheduled programs are postponed to the end of March, as well. Patrons are encouraged to utilize the library’s digital services. Visit chboothlibrary.org for more information.

Movies at Edmond Town Hall, 45 Main Street, are canceled beginning March 13 until further notice.

Rosenthal and Health District Director Donna Culbert also produced a third in a series of video messages, this time focusing on building and facility adjustments, COVID-19 message and media fatigue, and a call to residents to isolate as best they can while keeping local businesses in mind for gift cards, take-out, and measures to minimize time and contact if and when residents have to visit local businesses.

View the latest COVID-19 video clip by CLICKING HERE or scrolling to the bottom of this report.

“For pressing town and school district business services, we won’t be closing the Municipal Center, but we are asking people to call ahead because of the range of issues we may be able to transact electronically,” the first selectman said. “Our goal is to significantly limit face-to-face contact between citizens and town workers, and we may be able to do that by having information, applications, and other documents ready if residents who need them just call in advance so we can be ready for them when they arrive.”

He said residents may also see infection and transmission control measures and protections in place that could range from staffers wearing gloves, to possible transmission barriers at some Municipal Center department counters.

“If you need to come to the Municipal Center, just please call ahead,” Rosenthal reiterated. All department phone extensions and some e-mail addresses are available at newtown-ct.gov.

At the Newtown Police Station and Town Hall South, Rosenthal and Capt Chris Vanghele are discouraging any routine walk-ins. Capt Vanghele said the Records Department is closed until further notice, but most critical records requests can be transacted electronically.

Anyone needing police records should call 203-270-4274, or e-mail police.records@newtown-ct.gov.

In addition, routine complaints should be done by phone. Additionally, those calling in reporting routine issues may not see an officer respond in person, but may be contacted or speak to an officer by phone instead.

The dispatching of local officers in response to more routine complaints will be prioritized on a case-by-case basis, the captain said. Anyone who comes to Town Hall South and the police headquarters who is ill may not be admitted to the building. While the department is grateful to citizens who may bring food, or other items, Capt Vanghele graciously requests residents to curtail the practice until further notice.

Also, there will be no fingerprinting or car seat installation services offered until further notice. Other non-emergency police services may be suspended without immediate notification, so when in doubt, Capt Vanghele asks residents and visitors to call ahead.

Business Relief & Assistance

Newtown’s office of Economic & Community Development is reminding local business owners that a newly created program of SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance for a small business. These loans can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.

Process for Accessing SBA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Disaster Relief Lending:

*The US Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Upon a request received from a state’s or territory’s governor, SBA will issue under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration.

*Any such Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance declaration issued by the SBA makes loans available to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations in designated areas of a state or territory to help alleviate economic injury caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

*SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance will coordinate with the state’s or territory’s Governor to submit the request for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance.

*Once a declaration is made for designated areas within a state, the information on the application process for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance will be made available to all affected communities.

*These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for nonprofits is 2.75 percent.

*SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.

*SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans are just one piece of the expanded focus of the federal government’s coordinated response, and the SBA is strongly committed to providing the most effective and customer-focused response possible.

For additional information, please contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center. Call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Additional Distancing Initiatives

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is closing all of its visitor centers and facilities associates within its state parks that are open to the public and receive significant visitor traffic throughout the day. Examples include the visitor center at Dinosaur State Park and the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park.

The closures are effective immediately.

DEEP is also immediately suspending large gatherings at all of their facilities and parks. These include, for example, weddings that are held at Harkness Memorial State Park. The agency is typically required to provide custodial and other facilities support for these kinds of events. DEEP is sending cancellation notices to the groups that made reservations for these large gatherings through at least the end of April.

For the most up-to-date information from the State of Connecticut on COVID-19, including guidance and other resources, all residents in the state are encouraged to visit ct.gov/coronavirus.

Individuals who have general questions that are not answered on the website can also call 2-1-1 for assistance. The information line is available 24 hours a day and has multilingual assistance and TDD/TTY access for those with a hearing impairment. The hotline only intended to be used by individuals who are not experiencing symptoms but may have general questions related to COVID-19.

Anyone experiencing symptoms is strongly urged to contact their medical provider to seek treatment.

Connecticut State COO Josh Geballe led the latest COVID-19 press conference during which he provided numerous updates on state initiatives to address the spreading coronavirus. —CT Mirror photo
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