State moving ahead with gradual reopening despite some misgivings  

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — State Sen. Saud Anwar is uneasy about Gov. Ned Lamont reopening some businesses to the public on May 20 as a lung disease doctor on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dressed in his hospital scrubs, the South Windsor Democrat shared his misgivings via video conference during Lamont’s briefing Monday on the status of the spread of coronavirus disease and the state’s ongoing response.

“While I know your vision is to have May 20 to be opening time, I’m a little bit concerned from a medical point of view,” Anwar told Lamont.

He said the state’s medical community is worried about a resurgence of COVID-19 as emergency orders on commerce and society are loosened.

“This disease spreads like fire,” Anwar said.

He said a widespread outbreak in a nursing home, or just an influx of 10 to 20 infected patients could overwhelm an intensive care unit of a hospital.

“I’m in the intensive care unit, and I’m seeing unfortunately the ugly face of the disease,” said Anwar, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Manchester Memorial and Rockville General hospitals.

LAMONT WAS UNFAZED about moving ahead with his plans to gradually reopen businesses that had been completely or partially shut down to slow community spread of the disease.

He said he planned to release reopening guidelines next week so businesses can prepare for May 20.

Rep. William A. Petit Jr., R-Plainville, a retired endocrinologist, shared Anwar’s public health concerns, but he supported the governor’s plan to gradually reopen businesses on May 20. Lamont also invited him to participate in Monday’s briefing.

“I think we can do what we are doing, that is being to have plans to reopen, but we have to do it cautiously so we don’t see a resurgence of the disease, and I think what everybody out in the community needs is very specific guidelines so they can follow those guidelines to minimize our risk,” said Petit, the former director of public health for Plainville from 1998 to 2007.

He said the public needs to understand the novel coronavirus is quite contagious, and infected people can have the virus for two weeks.

THE INFECTION RATE continued to increase Monday as another 661 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported since Sunday.

Through mid-day Monday, there have been 29,973 COVID-19 cases since the first one involving a state resident was reported on March 8.

The death toll also mounted, but Lamont reported a slowdown.

“The death rate blessedly is slightly lower the last five days than it was the previous five days,” he said.

There were an additional 61 confirmed and probable coronavirus-related deaths reported Monday. This brought the fatalities to 2,556.

The hospitalization rate declined for the 12th day in a row. There was a net drop of 24 patients between admissions and discharges to 1,464.

A 14-day decline in the hospitalization rate is crucial to Lamont’s reopening strategy.

“That is an important metric as you’ve heard me describe before,” Lamont said.

He said the death and infection rates are lagging indicators of community spread.

The Naugatuck Valley Health District reported there have been 197 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Naugatuck and 39 in Beacon Falls as of Monday. There have been four coronavirus-related deaths of Naugatuck residents, according to the health district. The health district reported the latest death of a Naugatuck resident on Monday, saying the person lived in a nursing home.

On Monday, the Chesprocott Health District reported 42 laboratory-confirmed cases in Prospect.

A GROUP OF REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS asked U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate Lamont’s emergency orders, including restrictions on businesses.

Barr ordered federal prosecutors across the U.S. last Monday to identify coronavirus-related restrictions from state and local governments that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.

Sen. Robert C. Sampson, R-16th District, on Monday released a letter that he and 11 other conservative Republican legislators wrote Barr citing five instances where they believe Lamont’s executive orders have infringed on constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

The GOP lawmaker said the governor’s orders closing some businesses and restricting businesses that were allowed to keep operating violated equal protection and property rights.

They said a five-person limit on social gatherings violated First Amendment freedoms to assemble and worship, and an order barring foot traffic in gun shops violated the Second Amendment.

Lamont said he was unaware of the referral to Barr, and no one has raised any constitutional concerns in conversations that he has had in recent weeks.

“I am little surprised,” he said.

Paul Mounds, chief of staff to Lamont, said the governor’s executive actions to protect the public welfare have been within the law.

In addition to Sampson, signatories of the letter included Sen. Eric C. Berthel, R-Watertown, and Reps. Gale L. Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, Joseph Polletta, R-Watertown, and Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.