Lamont orders non-essential employees to stay home to stop spread of virus

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HARTFORD – Gov. Ned Lamont is ordering all but essential businesses to close for a month Monday to combat the spreading coronavirus disease that has infected nearly 200 people and claimed four lives in last two weeks.

“Look, this is tough medicine. I think it is the right medicine,” Lamont said.

The affected businesses will be closed from 8 p.m. on Monday through April 22 under the sweeping executive order that the governor issue Friday.

His “Stay Safe, Stay At Home” policy will exempt ongoing major construction projects, large manufacturers, health care and child care providers, banks and related financial institutions, and transportation.

Lamont and Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said some retail businesses would also be allowed to remain open, including grocery stores, gas stations, auto shops, hardware stores and liquor stores.

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“Don’t open your retail store unless you’re involved in some essential service like food, grocery stores or health care as in pharmacies, fuel as in gas stations.” Lamont said. “I want to see all the rest of those nonessential services closed, closed for at least a few weeks, or for the foreseeable future.”

THE EXECUTIVE ORDER authorizes David Lehman, the state commissioner of Department Economic and Community Development, to designate businesses as essential or nonessential. The DECD will release guidance to businesses over the weekend.

The order said essential businesses will include any that fall within 16 critical infrastructure sectors that U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified. Any other business may petition the DECD to be deemed essential.

Lamont and Geballe said state and local police will enforce the governor’s latest order. Lamont said enforcement will be firm, but not be heavy-handed.

“If there is a local retail store that stays open, it will be a friendly reminder that the governor has an executive order and you should be closed, and people could be subject of fines if they stay open,” he said.

State law makes it a felony offense to violate the terms of the civil preparedness and public health emergencies that Lamont has declared. Convictions carry a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.

The executive order also bars municipalities from imposing emergency orders that prohibit travel or confine people to their residences without the approval of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. No local orders may conflict with any of Lamont’s directives.

THIRTY-FIVE MORE PEOPLE tested positive for COVID-19 through Friday, bringing the state’s running total to 194.

Lamont reported the fourth death of the viral outbreak in three days, and he said the number of hospitalizations increased to 40 statewide.

There are now confirmed COVID-19 cases in all eight counties, with the first case reported in New London County.

“We are testing close to 1,000 people. You may remember when we started out it was 20 a day,” Lamont said. “So, the number of infections reported is a reflection of the fact that more people are infected, and it also a big reflection of the fact that we are testing so many more people.”

To date, more than 2,300 patients in Connecticut have been tested between the State Public Health Laboratory and private laboratories..

The Department of Public Health is now assuming responsibilities from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve all COVID-19 testing at commercial laboratories in the state.

THE STATE’S RESPONSE to COVID-19 is projected to cost $38 million, according to an estimate released Friday.

The state Office of Policy and Management estimated an additional $37.4 million in increased costs and an a loss of $800,000 in revenue for the current fiscal year that ends June 30 because return deadlines for three business taxes have been pushed back.

The largest anticipated expense is an additional $20 million in Medicaid spending to handle increased demands for services as a result of the pandemic. Also, OPM estimates $8.4 million more will be needed to provide health coverage to uninsured people who are American citizens.

The income, sales and corporations taxes are also expected to take hits because of the global pandemic.

The withholding component of the personal income tax is now projected to raise $30 million less than the $6.9 billion that was budgeted. The Department of Revenue Services is extending filing and payment deadlines for personal income tax returns to July 15,

The latest OPM estimates revised sales taxes downward by $18.6 million and revised the corporation tax downward by $40 million.

OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw said the March budget estimate does not reflect the likely breadth and scope of the potential economic impacts from the pandemic on the state’s revenue streams.

“We anticipate growing disruptions as more segments of the economy pause operations,” she said.

By Paul Hughes, Republican-American