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New Local Virus Cases Down To About One Per Day



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Newtown public health officials have seen a leveling out of new COVID-19 cases over the past month, with just 39 new cases registered since May 6.

This de-escalation is providing an opportunity to pause, breathe, take stock, and begin refocusing on numerous other issues that the local Health District dealt with regularly before the pandemic began taking its toll on more than 2,000 residents and stole 66 lives from the community.

District Health Director Donna Culbert has already pivoted in that direction, having returned to a spring routine of raising awareness of tickborne disease and prevention, along with ramping up initiatives such as promoting hurricane preparedness and childhood vaccinations other than those being distributed to arrest the symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

Similarly, The Newtown Bee will begin returning attention to other local issues while continuing to keep an eye on all things COVID, albeit with fewer reports.

Since The Bee’s first COVID-19 updates began running in print and online late last February, becoming almost daily fixtures on the newspaper’s website when the print edition was temporarily paused in early April of 2020, the newspaper has leaned heavily on Culbert, along with First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and town officials including Human Services Director Natalie Jackson, Emergency Communications Director Maureen Will, Community Center Director Matt Ariniello, and Parks & Rec Director Amy Mangold.

Those individuals were part of one or more COVID-19 video clips produced for The Newtown Bee’s YouTube channel to help provide even greater insight into local activities related to the virus, its toll, and measures being taken to minimize its spread. And after today’s report, the newspaper will return to reporting on the pandemic as breaking news develops rather than in these weekly updates.

As of June 1, the state reports a total of 2,118 Newtown residents having tested positive for the virus, with 66 lives lost. On that day, the total of laboratory-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases reported among Connecticut residents was 347,678; 85 patients were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and the state had lost 8,247 residents to COVID-19-related illnesses.

On Thursday, May 27, Governor Ned Lamont led his last twice-weekly press briefing devoted to keeping news agencies and the public up to date on issues tied to the virus, although his work on damage control continues daily.

This week, Lamont announced that more than 1,000 tenants and landlords in Connecticut had already benefitted from UniteCT — the state’s emergency rental and utility assistance program for households that have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that was launched in March. In the last week alone, he said the Connecticut Department of Housing — which administers the program — approved more than 250 of those payments.

UniteCT Assistance

UniteCT provides qualified households with up to $10,000 in past due and prospective rent payments, as well as up to $1,500 in payments for past due electric bills. Payments are typically made by the state directly to landlords and utility companies on behalf of tenants.

The program is funded by Connecticut’s $457 million share of the $47 billion that Congress appropriated for emergency rental and utility assistance in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. The American Rescue Plan Act also provides $10 billion for homeowner assistance, $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion for homelessness assistance, and $5 billion to assist low-income households with home energy and water costs.

“Thanks to UniteCT, more than a thousand Connecticut residents and counting are getting back on their feet without worrying about the roof over their heads, and landlords are receiving payments on their behalf,” Lamont said in a release. “I’m confident that UniteCT will help more households each week going forward, and I applaud our Congressional delegation and the Biden-Harris administration for continuing to work with our state to help families recover from the financial impact of the pandemic.”

“We’ve been working with stakeholders and the federal government to constantly improve UniteCT,” Connecticut Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said.

“The UniteCT team continues the work of being better today than yesterday at breaking down barriers to delivering financial assistance to Connecticut renters affected by this unprecedented crisis. These changes couldn’t come at a better time, as UniteCT is deliberately increasing efforts to clear the backlog of applicants. The change in income verification will allow for a shorter turnaround time from application submittal to payment,” Mosquera-Bruno said.

Consistent with new guidelines released by the federal government last month, the Connecticut Department of Housing recently streamlined income documentation requirements for the program.

To take further advantage of the flexibility provided by those guidelines, and in light of the second round of funding available in the American Rescue Plan Act, UniteCT will now:

*Cover arrears accrued since the national emergency was declared on March 13, 2020, rather than only those accrued in the last six months;

*Reimburse landlords for 100% of covered arrears, rather than only 85%;

*Cover three full months of prospective rent, rather than requiring certain tenants to contribute a portion of their income;

*Protect tenants by preventing evictions for nonpayment of rent during the months covered by the prospective rent payments;

*Rely, where possible, on information about an applicant’s enrollment in other state programs or about median household income in an applicant’s neighborhood to further streamline the application process; and

*Continue to consider waiving the $10,000 limit on rent assistance on a case-by-case basis for households with extenuating circumstances.

Tenants and landlords who have already received assistance will also benefit from these changes. The Connecticut Department of Housing will contact those tenants and landlords with further instructions.

As always, check newtownbee.com for the latest exclusive local reporting on COVID-19 developments as they happen, and follow The Newtown Bee on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for breaking news seven days a week.

Associate Editor John Voket can be reached at john@thebee.com.

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