Lamont Addresses Unemployment System Criticism, State's Preparedness for Coronavirus to Peak

Governor Ned Lamont sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with NBC Connecticut on Monday to address the state's response to COVID-19

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NBC Connecticut's Kristen Johnson: Over the weekend, President Trump extended social distancing guidelines to April 30th.  How does this match up with the timeline for your executive orders? Do you expect the state to be back open for business by May First?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “No, but I’m glad he extended it.  We’ve had sort of mixed messages with the governors and the White House for a while and I think it’s important for the president to join us in saying we got to maintain these strict social distancing rules at least for another month.  My hunch is it will be longer than that.”

Kristen Johnson: Have you talked to the casinos at all?  Have they pledged not to reopen until you give them the green light? 

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “We’ve had good conversations with the casinos. Obviously, they’re a sovereign nation but they stepped up, they did the right thing.  They closed down their casinos going on two weeks ago now.  We’re certainly urging them, like the president to continue this at least for another month.”

Kristen Johnson: Are you confident they will?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: "I'm confident they will. They're doing the right thing. Good neighbors."

Kristen Johnson: Let’s talk about the impact that New York patients are having coming over to the Connecticut hospitals that are along the border. State epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter has said hospitals in Greenwich and Danbury will be the first to be overwhelmed by these patients.  Have we reached that point yet?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “There are some patients crossing the border and the COVID pandemic doesn’t know state borders either and that’s why it’s so important that the federal government thinks in terms of the region, not in terms of state like giving more to New York than they do to southern Connecticut per capita.”

Kristen Johnson: There’s been some suggestion that you ban people from New York from coming to Connecticut hospitals.  Can you do that?  Is that something that you would even entertain doing?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “At one point, we had a number of people who were going to be giving birth and they wanted to come to Connecticut because their husband or partner couldn’t be in the operating room, but Gov. Cuomo has changed that rule so there’s less incentive for that back and forth.”

Kristen Johnson: As you prepare for the coronavirus to peak here in Connecticut in two weeks, will we have enough doctors and nurses, will you have the PPE that you need the ventilators that you need?  

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “Kristen, I feel confident the things we control, we’re going to be well prepared for.  We’re adding onto capacity in terms of field hospitals.  Taking some of our college field hospitals turning them into intermediate care as well.  One thing I don’t control is the PPE and the ventilators and there we’re banging and we’re working every day with the federal government to make sure Connecticut gets to the front of the line.”

Kristen Johnson: I know your team is developing a worst-case scenario, 350,000 people in our state potentially getting coronavirus.  Do you believe we will reach that capacity when it comes to PPE, when it comes to physical space, and the nurses and doctors that we need?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “I don’t.  I think the people of Connecticut are heroes and they are doing the right thing.  They’re really, in most cases, respecting the social distancing.  They’re staying at home, they’re not going to work.  They’re telecommuting.  They’re not visiting grandpa, they’re facetiming with grandpa.  We’ve got young people in Waterbury who are bringing the meals right to the back door of grandpa or an elderly neighbor so that the elderly do not have to get out.  That is by far the group that is most vulnerable.  That’s where almost all of our hospitalizations and fatalities have been, folks over 70.”

Kristen Johnson: So, it sounds to me that you may be optimistic that we won’t reach that worst case scenario of 10% of our population getting COVID-19?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “Let me just say I’m hopeful.  We’re doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Let’s face it.  We’re surrounded by some big cities starting with New York City, and we don’t control everything that could be coming up from there, Boston coming in from the other direction, so we’re trying to be really strict about people crossing our borders and make sure they self-quarantine.”

Kristen Johnson: It’s been a week since your executive order closing non-essential businesses went into effect.   How many exemptions have been filed and of those  how many have been approved/denied?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “There’s certainly a lot of requests for exemptions and my key criteria is set up your business so you don’t have to do a lot of social interaction.  If there’s a way that you can pick up on the street corner or you can deliver that’s ok.  As long as you don’t have a lot of people congregating at your store.  I was talking to our head of public safety today and he said people are really respecting that.  We’ve been to some of the box stores.  They’re limiting the number of people that are there.  They have lines to make sure you’re staying six feet apart at the cashier.  Gun stores are respecting the by appointment only rule.  So, I think people by and large are respecting what we’re trying to do.  I just worry about the young people.  I was walking through Elizabeth Park and I saw 12 kids playing basketball and there it’s fun, it’s outdoorsy, I’m young, it’s risky.  It’s risky for you and dangerous for your friends and family.”

Kristen Johnson: Anyone fined for staying open?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “I do know that our police are keeping a close eye on, making sure.  There’s been a couple of barbershops I know we had to knock on their door and they’ve done the right thing.”

Kristen Johnson: Our newsroom has taken a lot of phone calls from people incredibly frustrated with trying to get through to the Department of Labor about unemployment.  People report the phone lines dropping and claims taking a very long time to process.  The state is dealing with more claims than usual.  What should people who are applying for unemployment know?

Gov. Ned Lamont, (D) Connecticut: “When you say claims larger than usual, let’s say 10 times more than we’ve ever experienced before and it’s an old IT platform that’s probably 40 years old, such is state government.  No excuses.  I think we’ve doubled or tripled the number of people who are processing these claims, we’re getting more people on the telephone.  You don’t have to wait a for a week after you’ve left your employment or your company’s no longer there.  You can file right away.  I’m doing everything I can do speed that up.  Right now, it’s going to be people power.”

As of Monday, 2,571 people in Connecticut have tested positive for the coronavirus in Connecticut, and 36 patients have died. For more coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, click here.

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