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UPDATED: Regional Closures Being Mandated To Slow Virus, Local Facilities Following Suit



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UPDATE: This report was updated Tuesday, March 17 to include links and to modify information about SBA emergency loan details.

The report was previously updated at 5:35 pm Monday, March 16 with the latest number of positive COVID-19 cases.

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With an eye on keeping health facilities operational by protecting health care workers and insulating the most vulnerable from possible COVID-19 exposure, Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, and Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey have announced a regional approach to combating the novel coronavirus throughout the tri-state area.

As of 5 pm Monday, March 16, the state is reporting a total of 41 confirmed cases — 29 in Fairfield County, and four each in Litchfield, New Haven, and Hartford Counties. There was no other immediate details from the state regarding specifics about those individuals most recently diagnosed.

Newtown is taking steps to do the same by closing the Senior Center and Newtown Community Center, and limiting or closing public access to other public buildings according to First Selectman Dan Rosenthal. Newtown has also put Deputy Emergency Management Director Rob Sibley in a position to act as a liaison on relief for businesses, and the town is temporarily relaxing some inspection and signage standards to help ease the burden on local businesses.

These uniform standards will limit crowd capacity for social and recreational gatherings to 50 people effective 8 pm, Monday evening, March 16. This follows updated guidance that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Sunday recommending the cancellation or postponement of in-person events consisting of 50 people or more.

The three governors also announced that restaurants and bars that serve food will temporarily be required to move to take-out and delivery services only. Bars that do not serve food will be required to temporarily close. These measures will take effect at 8 pm, Monday, March 16.

Finally, the three governors said they will temporarily close movie theaters, gyms and fitness centers, and similar public workout facilities and studios. New York and New Jersey will close commercial casinos — also effective Monday at 8 pm.

Governor Lamont will do the same for the state’s physical off-track betting facilities, noting their willingness to voluntarily close. In addition, Governor Lamont and Governor Cuomo are strongly urging their tribal partners to close tribal casinos.

Coming out of the press conference with his New York and New Jersey colleagues, Governor Lamont said, “We must do everything we can as a community to slow the spread of this virus so that we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system and we protect the most vulnerable. Viruses do not know borders, which is why taking a regional approach on this issue is the best plan forward. A national approach to these measures would be the best option to slow and mitigate the spread of this virus.”

Governor Murphy said, “With all we are seeing in our state — and across our nation and around the world — the time for us to take our strongest, and most direct, actions to date to slow the spread of coronavirus is now.”

Governor Cuomo added, “Our primary goal right now is to slow the spread of this virus so that the wave of new infections doesn’t crash our healthcare system, and everyone agrees social distancing is the best way to do that. This is not a war that can be won alone, which is why New York is partnering with our neighboring states to implement a uniform standard that not only keeps our people safe but also prevents ‘state shopping’ where residents of one state travel to another and vice versa.”

The Latest Locally

Community Center Director Matt Ariniello informed The Newtown Bee just before 1 pm Monday that he is closing the facility to help minimize possible contact and communication of the virus. The Senior Center is also closing at the end of the business day Monday, and will remain closed until further notice.

“[Newtown residents’] health and safety is our number one priority,” Ariniello said. “Out of an abundance of caution, after meeting with town officials and leaders, we have made the difficult decision to shut down the Newtown Community Center temporarily at 6 pm this evening [March 16] until further notice.”

While Health District Director Donna Culbert stated about an hour earlier that there are no confirmed cases is town, Ariniello said he and the community center staff intend to take time to deep clean the facility, and believes it is also an opportunity to promote self care among his staff and the community at large.

“We will continually work with community leaders on how the Community Center can best serve our community during this time,” he added. “More information will be shared in the coming days on a reopening plan. Opening announcements will be made through The Newtown Bee, other news sources, e-blasts, and social media. The Community Center will still be available by phone during the hours of 8 am and 4:30 pm.”

The center staff thanked community members “for their support and patience during this challenging time and look forward to opening our doors again soon.”

The first selectman echoed statements from the governor saying he is taking precautionary steps with town agencies and practices to ensure advanced preparation is happening if public health situations worsen rapidly.

“My chief concern is for our most vulnerable population, along with emergency responders and those who work in health care delivery fields,” Rosenthal said. He and town Human Services Director Natalie Jackson are working with the FAITH Food Pantry in regard to the role it might play in helping residents obtain critical food supplies.

Rosenthal and Culbert are urging all residents to follow prescribed social distancing suggestions, but to not shut themselves off completely from family and social interaction.

“We are blessed so far with nice weather, so residents should get out and enjoy it,” Rosenthal said.

The first selectman is also reminding visitors who have pressing business at the Municipal Center that visitors will only be admitted if they have an appointment, or they call ahead. To promote that, the Municipal Center building is locked, and there is a list of phone numbers posted on each door for visitors to call any department they might need to access.

“Although we don’t have an identified case in Newtown yet, we are assuming there are cases among us,” he said. “So we’re asking residents to take proper precautions by limiting gatherings, practicing proper distancing, and washing their hands frequently.”

Culbert said the current situation provides a opportunity for residents to check on their neighbors, and to offer any assistance while continuing to practice the necessary precautions to minimize the potential for contamination.

“Maybe see if a neighbor needs help with shopping or running other errands,” the health official suggested. As is her nearly year-round practice, Culbert is also reminding residents who do head out for walks or hiking to perform a thorough tick check upon return, and to employ standard practices to minimize the chance for ticks to attach and possibly infect residents.

Tick check and tickborne disease prevention tips are available by consulting the Health District website by CLICKING HERE

State Rep Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) is reminding residents that the State Department of Public Health (DPH) is recommending that anybody who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 (coughing, shortness of breath, and/or fever) or who has traveled to an area where the disease is highly prevalent to contact their healthcare provider to determine whether a test is required.

A doctor’s order is required for testing to take place.

Rep Bolinsky reminds residents that the governor has also launched a 24/7 hotline, in cooperation with United Way of Connecticut, for questions from the public regarding issues related to the spread of coronavirus. People with questions can call 2-1-1 or text “CTCOVID” to 898211 for the most up-to-date information.

Additionally, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center has released a resource guide and coronavirus FAQs page for parents trying to navigate this ever-evolving outbreak. Find that fact sheet by CLICKING HERE

“As part of the effort to slow the spread of the outbreak, legislative leaders have announced the closure of the Legislative Office Building and State Capitol until Monday, March 30,” Rep Bolinsky stated in a release Monday afternoon.

“During this time the building will undergo a thorough cleaning and employees will continue working remotely,” the lawmaker said. “The General Assembly is currently convened in the ‘short session,’ which runs from February 5 through May 6. Leaders of the House and Senate Republican and Democrat caucuses will continue to meet and discuss the extension of committee deadlines and how to proceed with legislative business.”

Preliminary Business Assistance

The US Small Business Association is ramping up initiatives to help support business owners locally and across the country already suffering from COVID-19 fallout. Information about the types of loans available, the process to apply for them, who can apply, and other details are available now by CLICKING HERE

SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said, “Our agency will work directly with state Governors to provide targeted, low-interest disaster recovery loans to small businesses that have been severely impacted by the situation. Additionally, the SBA continues to assist small businesses with counseling and navigating their own preparedness plans through our network of 68 District Offices and numerous Resource Partners located around the country. The SBA will continue to provide every small business with the most effective and customer-focused response possible during these times of uncertainty.”

Since a formal Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration has been made in Connecticut, the SBA is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses and private nonprofit organizations.

“The Governor’s declaration from last week is the key to enable the process in Connecticut,” said Newtown Emergency Management and FEMA liaison Rob Sibley. “Newtown qualified by default at that point.”

The SBA memo further states its Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that cannot 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 non-profits 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. For additional information, please contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center.

For additional information, call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Temporary Signage & Structures

Rosenthal has also authorized relaxing signage rules for local businesses, and Borough of Newtown Warden Jay Maher said he supporting the same measures. As such, the Town and Borough Zoning Commissions are suspending the permits for temporary signage. The temporary signs will not include banners.

The purpose is to inform customers on how to order take out, about changes in hours, how to access the business, and other pertinent information. The maximum size of signs is 16-square-feet.

Also, the installation of temporary structures and tables to facilitate the pick-up of food, and the outdoor display and sale of non-perishable merchandise is allowed. Temporary structures greater than 120-square-feet and tents greater than 350-square-feet will still require a building permit

In addition, due to supply disruption of paper bags, the First Selectman is temporarily suspending the Newtown Plastic Bag Ordinance for 30 days. The State tax on plastic bags still remains in effect.

All of the temporary measures will be effective as of March 16.

“We want to make sure our Newtown businesses have the flexibility to adapt to the current situation, and so they can promote themselves during this difficult time,” the first selectman said.

Rep Bolinsky also reminds residents to be on the lookout for scams.

“Unsolicited offers of help from unknown sources that ask for personal information, promises that credit cards will not be charged, and requests to click on links may expose you to the dark side of human crisis behavior,” the local lawmaker said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“We’ll get through this with caution, caring, and kindness,” he added.

Newtown Legislative Council Chairman Paul Lundquist has also established a call-in line for any residents who want to participate in the Public Hearing on the proposed Town and school district budget, but who do not want to attend the 7 pm session on Wednesday, March 18. Residents wishing to comment may call 203-270-4249, at 7 pm to be heard.

Thoughts and comments on the budget can also be shared with the Legislative Council via email through the town website. Additionally, the town website includes live-streaming of meetings and saves videos for later viewing. The Legislative Council's regular meeting will follow at 7:30.

Find the latest municipal information at newtown-ct.gov, and check newtownbee.com — and follow the newspaper’s Facebook and Twitter posts for all late breaking developments of particular interest to Newtown residents and businesses.

An unidentified visitor reads warning and informational signs posted in the Newtown Community Center lobby Monday morning. Subsequently, it was announced the Senior Center and Community Center will be closing until further notice effective Monday, March 16. —Bee Photo, Voket
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