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Daily coronavirus updates: Connecticut’s third mobile field hospital to be deployed in coming days amid rise in COVID-19 cases

Hartford Courant — Russell Blair Hartford Courant

March 26--A mobile field hospital will be assembled on the grounds of Middlesex Hospital in Middletown in the coming days, the third such operation Connecticut is deploying to prepare for the coronavirus crisis.

The state Department of Public Health has already set up field hospitals at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford and Danbury Hospital as medical centers across the state reconfigure their facilities and resources for the looming surge of COVID-19 cases. The state’s units create 25 extra beds for triage and treatment.

There were 875 confirmed cases in Connecticut as of Wednesday afternoon, up from 618 the day prior. Across the state, 19 people have died with confirmed COVID-19 and 113 were hospitalized.

Several hospitals have opened their own triage tents and mobile units to create overflow capacity, and to establish separate areas for patients who are and are not exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Hartford HealthCare plans to lease the hockey arena at Trinity College in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 patients, the health system announced Wednesday.

Hospitals have also canceled or scaled back elective procedures as part of the reconfigurations. At least one hospital, Connecticut Children’s, is paring back administrative staff through furloughs, a spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.

Monica Buchanan said the medical center is still determining on how many team members from what departments are going to be impacted.

In other developments:

Four state police troopers have tested for the virus and all have been in self quarantine since their symptoms began, the agency said Wednesday night. The cases include troopers at Troop G in Bridgeport, Troop L in Litchfield, the training academy in Meriden and a recruit from the 129th training troop already training remotely. All four are expected to make full recoveries, the agency said.

State officials plan to provide $25 million in loans to small businesses.

The state Department of Labor is receiving 20 times the usual number of unemployment claims and now has a three-week backlog.

Coronavirus testing slows as virus spreads

Connecticut’s COVID-19 testing has slowed this week due to a shortage of the chemical ingredients needed to prepare and process samples, Gov. Ned Lamont said at an afternoon news conference.

That and other testing limitations undercount the number of actual coronavirus cases across the U.S., health experts believe.

“We’re doing everything we can to add capacity there and I think we’re gonna be able to add capacity on the testing front very soon,” Lamont said.

Testing had ramped up last week but has slowed in recent days. The state public health laboratory, hospitals and commercial laboratories reported only about 600 additional coronavirus tests on Wednesday, down from 800 new tests on Tuesday and 900 the day prior -- the state’s most productive testing date so far.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy referenced the shortage of tests in a tweet on Wednesday, saying one of Connecticut’s busiest hospitals was set to run out of supplies in three days and that the next shipment of tests wasn’t coming.

Connecticut to distribute $25M in small business loans

The state announced a new initiative Wednesday to provide $25 million in zero-interest loans to small businesses with up to 100 employees.

Loans will represent three months of operating expenses for a business, and will be capped at $75,000, said David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Companies will have 18 months to pay back the loans.

Lehman also announced a loan program for larger businesses with up to 500 people, sole practitioners and workers in the gig economy.

Unemployment insurance claims climbing

The Department of Labor has received an ‘unprecedented’ 99,000 unemployment insurance claims through Monday, officials said at a press conference Wednesday. The number of claims is about 20 times the normal level.

With a backlog of cases, processing claims is taking about three weeks. Officials are urging applicants to have payments sent by direct deposit rather than to a debit card to speed up the process.

The department has also shifted employees who do not usually deal with unemployment claims to begin handling them and brought some people out of retirement to help. A member of the department has also tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantined at their home.

Hospitals experiencing PPE shortages

With the rapid rise in cases, hospitals are pleading for donations of personal protective equipment to cope with the onslaught of coronavirus patients, citing critical shortages even as shipments arrive from the Strategic National Stockpile.

The Connecticut Army National Guard descended on two state armories Tuesday to distribute N95 respirator face masks, goggles and other supplies from the stockpile, while more guardsmen raised mobile field hospitals outside Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center and Danbury Hospital.

Hartford HealthCare goes through 12,000 to 15,000 surgical and N95 face masks each day, the health system’s chief clinical officer Dr. Ajay Kumar said Wednesday. Securing enough gloves, gowns and face shields has also become a significant challenge, he said.

Still, starting Friday, every employee who is exposed to clinical areas will now receive surgical or N95 masks, including workers who clean rooms, stock supplies in the pharmacies and serve patients meals, Kumar said.

That’s possible because the past few days have brought in “a tremendous amount of donations” from large corporations, such as Stanley Black & Decker and Foxwoods Resort Casino, as well as new supply chain pipelines.

“Most likely we’re going to see increased numbers over the next two to three weeks at all health care facilities in Connecticut,” Kumar said. “And we’re going to see increased number of patients who are positive or are requiring hospitalization. The trend is going to be upward at this time.”

In other news:

Four state police troopers have tested for the virus and all have been in self quarantine since their symptoms began, the agency said Wednesday night. The cases include troopers at Troop G in Bridgeport, Troop L in Litchfield, the training academy in Meriden and a recruit from the 129th training troop already training remotely. All four are expected to make full recoveries, the agency said.

Fishing season opened in Connecticut Wednesday, a few weeks earlier than usual, in an effort to shrink the size of crowds that typically gather on opening day in April. Anglers are encouraged to practice social distancing and remain six feet apart.

The state Judicial Branch has closed the Danbury courthouse after an employee in the clerk’s office tested positive for COVID-19. The courthouse will remain closed until further notice and all business has been transferred to the Waterbury courthouse, said Judge Patrick L. Carroll III, the chief court administrator.

A second Department of Correction employee has tested positive for COVID-19, the DOC said Wednesday. The employee, who had “minimal interaction with the offender population” worked at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville and last reported to work on March 21. No other staff member or offender at the center as tested positive for the virus at this time.

The legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office is beginning to measure the impact of coronavirus on the state budget. The Office of Fiscal Analysis Wednesday projected a deficit in the current fiscal year of $178.5 million, up from an estimate last month of $90.1 million. “The scale of the public health crisis triggered by the global pandemic and the resulting economic impact is extraordinary and will negatively impact multiple fiscal years, although federal fiscal policies may provide near-term state fiscal relief,” the office said in a monthly report.

Courant staff writers Daniela Altimari, David Owens and Nicholas Rondinone contributed to this report.

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at rlurye@courant.com.

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