HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials are struggling to handle an overwhelming number of unemployment claims stemming from the coronavirus outbreak that has grown to more than 220,000 in roughly two weeks, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.
The Democrat said his administration has been “throwing more and more people" at the huge task of processing claims, including hiring back retired state employees, to try and reduce a backlog, while at the same time trying to upgrade the state Department of Labor's aging computer system to speed up process.
“This is going on around the country and it’s going on right here. And right now it’s a backlog of five or six weeks and it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Lamont said. “Give us a four or five days. We’re working on an end-around, working out with a fix that would allow us to have an expedited process.”
State Department of Labor officials said earlier Thursday that the agency has received over 200,000 unemployment claims in just over two weeks, a number it usually receives during a full year. The department has processed more than 80,000 of the new applications.
As of Wednesday, more than 100 Connecticut resident have died from COVID-19. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
In other developments related to the outbreak:
LODGING AND LIQUOR CHANGES
Lamont's latest executive order prohibits all hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and short-term residential rentals, including those listed on websites like Airbnb and Vrbo, from renting to customers for leisure or vacation purposes. Instead, lodging must be limited to health care workers, first responders, other essential workers, including those transporting materials to hospitals. Also, they'll be limited to vulnerable populations, such as people who homeless and residents who need a place to self-quarantine.
The order also additional businesses and manufacturers, under certain conditions, to sell liquor for pick-up and delivery to help reduce travel by customers.
PRISONER EMPLOYEES INFECTED
The state Department of Correction said 16 staff members at prisons across the state have tested positive for COVID-19, a sharp increase from the three positive tests among staff reported earlier this week. The department puts the number of infected inmates at eight, including five at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield and three at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville. Both prisons have been locked down.
The infected staff members include three who worked at the Hartford Correctional Center and two each at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, New Haven Correctional Center, York Correctional Institution for women in Uncasville and the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution in Enfield. The department reports single infections among staff at Corrigan-Radgowski, the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown and the the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says there are 41 people being treated in the Connecticut veteran’s health care system for COVID-19. That includes 13 patients who have been hospitalized and 28 being treated as outpatients. The system has hospitals in West Haven and Newington.
The Lamont administration plans to move some residents living in Connecticut’s long-term care facilities to create dedicated spaces for those who have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Under an executive order issued Wednesday night, anyone diagnosed positive in a hospital and later admitted to a nursing home will be monitored and assessed for 14 days in a segregated area with other residents who tested positive.
Meanwhile, any residents of some long-term care facilities who either test negative or display no symptoms will be able to voluntarily transfer to facilities where there are no residents with the virus. Also, under Lamont’s plan, some nursing homes will house only infected individuals.
There are plans to create space in nursing homes that have recently closed, as well.
Advocates for immigrants being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New England rallied in Hartford on Thursday, arguing the detainees are being held in unsafe conditions because of the outbreak.
A convoy of vehicles, decorated with protest signs, circled outside U.S. District Court in Hartford, honking horns and calling for ICE to free Connecticut residents being held in the Bristol County Correctional Center in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
A lawsuit filed with the help of Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy clinic argues the inmates there are being kept in unsanitary bunk rooms where social distancing is not possible.
“The more people ICE continues to arrest, the greater likelihood that COVID-19 sweeps through Bristol County, if it is not there already," said Megan Yan, a Yale law student intern working on the case. “This continued detention is unjust, inhumane and unconstitutional.”
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has dismissed the suit as “completely frivolous." ICE officials have said they continue “to maintain confidence” in the jail but declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.
CONNECTICUT BUDGET IMPACTS
Melissa McCaw, Lamont's budget director, predicted the state's current fiscal year may end on June 30 with a $500 million budget deficit. The following fiscal year could end up being $1.4 billion in the red. That's namely because of increased costs associated with addressing the coronavirus pandemic in Connecticut and anticipated sharp declines in revenues from income and sales taxes. Lamont said Connecticut will be receiving $1.45 billion from the latest federal stimulus bill, but that won't make up for the revenue losses. Connecticut currently have a budget reserve account with $2.5 billion that will likely have to be tapped at some point.
Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb and Chris Ehrmann contributed to this report. Ehrmann is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage, in a partnership with The Associated Press for Connecticut. The AP is solely responsible for all content.