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Newtown’s COVID Cases Surge Again With Two New Deaths



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Anybody in Newtown who thinks COVID-19 is retreating locally in the face of proliferating vaccine availability and warmer weather coaxing more folks outside, presumably reducing transmissions, is simply wrong.

Despite the expanding availability of vaccines, dispensing sites, and accessibility opening up to virtually all state residents age 16 and up, here in Newtown the case load surged by nearly 100 over the past week, and tragically two more residents have succumbed to the virus, according to state tracking. Between this time a week ago and this report, Newtown’s positive virus cases increased from 1,789 to 1,880, with virus-related deaths edging up from 65 to 67.

Health District Director Donna Culbert characterized the current situation as “a balancing act.”

“Things are headed in the right direction: Vaccines are being administered, people are mostly less severely ill, but certainly not everyone — spring is here and people have so many great opportunities to be outdoors,” she said. “On the other side of the scale, cases are on the rise.”

Culbert believes this week’s increase can be attributed to COVID-fatigue, more contagious virus variants, or a combination of the two.

“It is important that residents continue to practice protective precautions — mask-wearing, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and staying home and away from others when unwell or symptomatic,” Culbert added, “and to adhere to isolation and quarantine standards when identified as being a case or contact of a case.”

Broadening the focus, as of April 7, the total of laboratory-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases reported among Connecticut residents was 318,767 — up nearly 8,000; 514 patients were hospitalized — virtually the same as last week — and the state reported a total of 7,935 COVID-19-associated deaths, 49 more than a week earlier.

On April 1, the cumulative number of SARS-CoV-2 variants that have been reported among Connecticut residents included:

B.1.1.7 (first detected in the United Kingdom): 469 cases

B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa): 6 cases*

P.1 (first detected in Brazil): 2 cases

B.1.427 (first detected in California): 30 cases

B.1.429 (first detected in California): 90 cases

Variants of interest:

B.1.526 (first detected in New York): 88 cases

B.1.525 (first detected in Africa and Europe): 10 cases

P.2 (first detected in Brazil): 7 cases

At the same time, resources from the American Rescue Plan are continuing to flow into the state, according to US Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, whose 5th District includes Newtown. Hayes said via a release April 7 that assistance coming to Connecticut will provide approximately $2.9 billion in aid, and roughly $185 million in aid to towns and cities for communities she serves.

Local funding will come from the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. An added $232 million will fund school districts and schools with high percentages of students living in poverty.

“In a normal year, Connecticut is considered a donor state to the federal government, meaning we give more than we get back,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “Through our tax revenue, we regularly support our country even when it is not in dire need. Now, the state needs help from the federal government. The American Rescue Plan will deliver over $4.3 billion to state and municipal governments to ensure we continue to lead the nation on COVID-19 response and economic recovery.”

Hayes said the first portion of the funding should be distributed no later than 60 days after certification by the Secretary of Treasury. The second portion will be disbursed 12 months after the first payment.

Absentee Voting Extended

On Tuesday, Governor Ned Lamont signed a new executive order (No. 10E) that allows all voters in any election, primary, or referendum held prior to May 20 to vote using an absentee ballot, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason. This is similar to the order that permitted voters to use no-excuse absentee ballots during elections held in 2020.

In addition, this order provides municipalities and regional boards of education with additional flexibility in scheduling budget hearings, meetings, and votes to account for logistical challenges posed by the pandemic.

That means Newtown voters participating in the April 13 special election for the vacant 112th Legislative District (approximately 2,336 households in southern Newtown), all town residents eligible to cast ballots for the April 27 budget referendum, and any qualified voter participating in the Borough of Newtown election May 4 can cast an absentee ballot instead of appearing at the polls for in-person voting.

Senior Burgess Chris Gardner said the Borough budget vote on May 11 is still expected to be held in person at Edmond Town Hall in a location that will allow for appropriate distancing — but added that he believes any borough voter can also cast a budget vote by absentee as well.

In other news, the Connecticut Department of Social Services, in collaboration with the State Department of Education, announced April 2 that $88.6 million in special food assistance benefits will be going in April to families of nearly 220,000 schoolchildren in the state who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals programs.

Funded through the federal Pandemic EBT (or P-EBT) program, the new benefits will help ensure that eligible children in pre-kindergarten through high school can purchase food to support learning from home or in hybrid models during the public health emergency.

Families do not need to apply for P-EBT benefits, as the Department of Social Services and State Department of Education will use attendance information provided by schools to determine if children are eligible for P-EBT. For more information, visit portal.ct.gov/p-ebt.

Vaccines For Vets

VA Connecticut Healthcare System announced this week that it has expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include anyone who served in the military (regardless of VA enrollment status), veteran spouses, and caregivers. This expansion is part of the recent SAVE LIVES Act.

While enrolled veterans remain the VA’s top priority, the agency encourages those newly eligible to attend one of its upcoming clinics. No appointment is needed, but appointments are available during clinic operating hours by calling 203-932-5711, extension 5627, 7784, or 7754.

Vaccines at walk-in clinics are first come, first served, and while supplies last. Masks are required, and to ensure social distancing, the VA asks that attendees not bring anyone into their clinic.

The latest clinics are scheduled for:

*April 9 and April 12, 8 am-3:30 pm, VA West Haven campus, 950 Campbell Avenue, Donaldson Center, Building 2, second floor; and

*April 11, 8 am-3:30 pm, Connecticut State Department of Veterans Affairs Campus, 287 West Street, Rocky Hill.

A complete listing of upcoming clinics is available at va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine.

As of April 5, Connecticut continued to rank among the top three states in the nation that have administered the most vaccines per capita.

So far, those who have received at least one dose in Connecticut include:

*82% of all people over the age of 65;

*75% of all people over the age of 55;

*67% of all people over the age of 45; and

*45% of all people over the age of 16.

The Lamont administration expected approximately 288,000 first doses to be delivered to Connecticut this week.

All Connecticut residents over the age of 16 are currently eligible to receive the vaccines. Appointments must be made in advance at all clinics statewide.

To learn how to make an appointment, visit ct.gov/covidvaccine and enter a zip code to find the nearest clinics.

C.H. Booth Library employees Margaret Larsen, kneeling at cart, and Randi Rote were working last week behind a Plexiglas barrier that has been installed on the library’s main circulation desk to slow the spread of the coronavirus. As evidenced here, staff members also continue to wear face masks to protect themselves and library patrons. Sanitary wipes, as seen at lower left, are evidence of another measure being taken at the Main Street institution to keep things sanitized as much as possible.—Bee Photo, Hicks
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