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Unpacking The Governor's Order On 'Nonessential' Workers While Newtown Officials Encourage Vigilance, Self Care



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On Saturday, March 21, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee he is strongly supporting directives to promote social distancing in Governor Ned Lamont's latest executive order. While Health District Director Donna Culbert is hoping residents consider the fluidity of the situation and constant flow of new information related to the COVID-19 virus part of a "new normal" — albeit temporary — and to use whatever means possible to mitigate anxiety.

Culbert told The Newtown Bee she is doing the same to mitigate her own stress as she awaits the inevitable.

"I'm just waiting and expecting the call about our first positive test, and our district residents should be expecting it, too," said Culbert, who's jurisdiction includes all of Newtown, Bridgewater, and Roxbury. "We should be prepared for it, but also continue to remain vigilant about protecting ourselves and our loved ones."

Culbert said although nobody has seen anything like the way this novel coronavirus is impacting the global community — from its origins half a world away to the spread of it across Fairfield County and the state — COVID-19 does share numerous characteristics of other viruses, so there are already a lot of "knowns" about it and how it is likely to behave in certain conditions.

That means as members of households inevitably contract it, and experience the range of symptoms and severity tied to it, they should immediately take every precaution to separate those infected from those who are not.

"People need to work extra hard to keep people who are sick separated from people who are not," the Health Director said. "In households with the illness, they need to practice aggressive disinfecting, especially in any shared areas."

Newtown residents should follow CDC guidance on disinfecting that is targeted at what is known about how this particular virus behaves, and remains active on surfaces that are exposed.

Culbert is also supporting and promoting wellness, especially among those who are feeling constantly or excessively anxious about the current situation and future unknowns.

"When people are anxious it begins to affect their baseline ability to fight illness," she said. "Excessive worrying could be depleting your defenses and immunity. Understanding there are things we can control and things like this that we can't is important. Then use whatever resources you have to help relieve stress and to focus on what we can do."

Referring to the governor's Friday Executive Order stepping up forced distancing by ordering a range of new closings, the first selectman said, "If we all do our part, we'll put this behind us much faster. This order just promote people staying home and only going out for essentials. If we all follow that, it also forestalls more drastic measures being taken."

As recently as Friday, Rosenthal said he has seen a number of groups of people around the Fairfield Hills campus interacting too close for comfort.

"We don't need to be walking in a big mass, or playing soccer in a large group — that really conflicts with guidance we're getting from virtually all health officials," the first selectman said. He also reminds residents that local parks, playgrounds and facilities like the skate park are closed and being patrolled, and those seen in those facilities are trespassing and may be subject to police intervention.

"If a few friends take a walk together spaced six feet away, that's fine — or doing some soccer drills," he said. "But we have seen the police respond to several parks facilities asking people to leave."

Local Updates, CODE RED

Regarding other critical service networks in town, Culbert noted that Newtown Youth & Family Services has initiated closing its facility and has pivoted to virtual and tele-health systems to serve clients. In a March 20 e-mail, NYFS Director Candice Bohr related, "Effective at end of business day today, NYFS will be 100 percent online and providing tele-health to our clients.

"If a client does not have the ability to audio/visually connect with us we will be calling those clients directly to provide their sessions," Bohr said. "As always our clinicians are available for our client’s emergent situations and our on-call communication system is aware of our procedures. All support groups, parenting education, and Autism groups have been postponed. We will have limited office staff in the agency daily from 9am til noon for administrative issues and facility checks. This will be a rotating schedule by several of us."

Call 203-791-7332 if you need assistance.

Rosenthal took up the issue of Lamont's "Stay Safe — Stay at Home" directive in a Code Red message to residents Friday evening, saying in part, "This afternoon the Governor followed earlier moves by California and New York in ordering that non-essential businesses close and people stay home (Stay Safe and Stay Home) for a period of 30 days beginning at 8 pm this Monday, March 23.

"While this move is dramatic and perhaps frightening to many of you, it is really meant to continue to force the social distancing that is critical to mitigate the spread of this illness," Rosenthal related. "The Governor’s order will allow for medical facilities, pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, liquor stores and restaurants (take-out only) among others to remain open and serve the public."

Rosenthal said local grocery stores are working hard to keep their shelves stocked and will remain open. "As such, please resist the temptation to hoard," he added.

"From a municipal government perspective, the Governor’s order will have an impact on the day to day services provided by our town departments and staff," the first selectman explained. "We are in the process of sorting through what services will remain, but rest assured public safety, public works, health and human services will be deemed essential and continue serving our residents."

Rosenthal also reminded residents, "You live in a great town when, despite what I am certain are intensely difficult times for all of you. I get more phone calls and e-mails offering support and assistance to our friends and neighbors than anything else. For that, I am humbled and grateful."

Culbert had similar sentiments.

"My hope is everyone in my district is doing everything right, and that translates into us experiencing minimal impact," she said. "I don't want us to lose anybody. I pray for that."

Any local resident being authorized for testing can now complete that procedure at all the Nuvance health system hospitals, Bridgetport Hospital, St Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, at both St Mary's and Waterbury Hospital in Waterbury, and Griffin Hospital in Derby.

Griffin Health is the latest regional health center to be approved by the Connecticut Department of Public Health to provide a drive-up collection facility for COVID-19 testing on the Griffin Hospital campus, 130 Division Street.

In order to initiate the testing process at the new collection facility, a person with COVID-19 symptoms will need to have a valid order for the test from a licensed independent healthcare practitioner (MD, DO, APRN or PA). Patients with a valid order can schedule an appointment at 203-437-6815.

The Griffin Health COVID-19 Drive-Up Test Collection Site is located in the hospital’s upper parking lot near the Community Garden. The collection site will operate seven days a week from 8 am - 5 pm, Monday-Friday, and from 8 am - 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Unpacking Lamont's Latest Order

At the state level, the Governor announced Saturday he is moving Connecticut income tax deadlines to July 15. The move, which complements Lamont’s recent 30-day extension of filing deadlines for business taxes, was anticipated given the US. Treasury’s recent decision to push the federal income tax filing deadline back to July 15.

The latest extension in Connecticut also applies to the estimated income tax payments due for the first and second quarters of 2020.

The Department of Revenue Services “understands the challenges the COVID-19 outbreak has brought workers and families in Connecticut,” said acting DRS Commissioner John Biello. “This extension is designed to offer taxpayers some additional time to file and submit their state income tax payments, if needed. Taxpayers are encouraged to visit the DRS website, where additional updates will be posted.”

The latest executive order closes the offices of non-essential businesses and non-profits and “shall employ, to the maximum extent possible, any telecommuting or work from home procedures that they can safely employ.” It takes effect Monday at 8 pm.

Not later than 8 pm on Sunday, the Department of Economic and Community Development “shall issue lawfully binding guidance about which businesses are essential,” but the order itself enumerates many on page 3 of the 4-page document.

According to the Executive Order, those business shall include, but not be limited to, the 16 critical infrastructure sectors as defined by the Department of Homeland Security and available HERE — essential health care operations including hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, elder care and home health care workers, companies and institutions involved in the research and development, manufacture, distribution, warehousing, and supplying of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology therapies, health care data, consumer health products, medical devices, diagnostics, equipment, services and any other healthcare related supplies or services;

Also essential infrastructure, including utilities, wastewater and drinking water, telecommunications, airports and transportation infrastructure; manufacturing, including food processing, pharmaceuticals, and industries supplying the essential services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and US Military; the defense industrial base, including aerospace, mechanical and software engineers, manufacturing/production workers, aircraft and weapon system mechanics and maintainers;

Essential retail, including grocery stores and big-box stores or wholesale clubs, provided they also sell groceries; pharmacies, gas stations and convenience stores; food and beverage retailers (including liquor/package stores and manufacturer permittees) and restaurants, provided they comply with previous and future executive orders issued during the existing declared public health and civil preparedness emergency;

Essential services including trash and recycling collection, hauling, and processing, mail and shipping services; news media; legal and accounting services; banks, insurance companies, check cashing services, and other financial institutions; providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations; construction;

Vendors of essential services and goods necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences or other essential businesses, including pest control and landscaping services; vendors that provide essential services or products, including logistics and technology support, child care and services needed to ensure the continuing operation of government agencies and the provision of goods, services or functions necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Any other business may be deemed essential after requesting an opinion from DECD, which shall review and grant such request, should it determine that it is in the best interest of the state to have the workforce continue at full capacity to properly respond to this emergency," the latest order concludes.

Latest Federal Actions

On Saturday, US Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led 20 Senate Democrats, including US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) this week in expressing their concern for children with disabilities amid the school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the US Department of Education Deputy Assistance Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Mark Schultz, the senators pressed the Department on what they’re doing to ensure that children with disabilities are provided a free and appropriate public education and educators, administers, and lead agencies are provided with the guidance necessary to carry out their legal obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“The impact of these closures has a significant impact on children with disabilities and presents unique challenges to school officials to meet the legal requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” the senators wrote.

The senators continued: “Assisting states and districts to navigate their obligations to meet the legal requirements of students’ individualized education plans (IEPs) and individualized family service plans (IFSP) for infants and toddlers with disabilities will be critical during this national public health emergency.”

Late Friday, Murphy joined US Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), rolling out a proposal that would provide much-needed liquidity for small and medium businesses during the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

The "Main Street Emergency Grant Program" would allow small businesses to apply for grants through the Treasury Department to cover fixed costs like payroll and rent. Those grants would revert to loans that would have to be paid back only if the business fails to prove it is meeting criteria under the proposal. It would also allow mid-size businesses to access to forgivable loans.

“If we don’t act quickly, small businesses that have closed due to the coronavirus won’t reopen. This is a crisis I am seeing play out in Connecticut, with small businesses already laying off workers and weighing the need to close for good. They need cash to cover payroll, make rent, and meet their costs immediately, and a loan doesn’t cut it for them. The Main Street Emergency Grant Program will help companies stay afloat during this crisis. Our economy—and the American people—need this relief as soon as possible,” said Murphy.

The Main Street Emergency Grant Program would provide much needed liquidity to small and mid-size businesses during this public health crisis. Businesses would be able to apply for grants, not just loans, through the Treasury, with the application based on a percentage of expenses necessary for the survival of the business, and those grants would revert to loans if the business fails to prove it is meeting criteria under the proposal.

Newtown residents and visitors seeking local municipal information can CLICK HERE

The latest state COVID-19 information is available HERE

CTMirror content was used in this report. Get the latest breaking updates on The Newtown Bee's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube sites or check back.

The Sandy Hook Diner was closed up tight at 8:40 Friday morning (March 20), a time when the diner is generally winding down after what is typically a busy breakfast period. Businesses like the diner appear to be among those that will be permitted to continue operating serving at least take-out under Governor Ned Lamont's latest Executive order that he issued later Friday evening. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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