Connecticut is emerging from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in relatively good shape. While a large number of people suffered and died during the height of the outbreak in April, the number of new infections in the state is now very low, students are returning to school and businesses are reopening.
But the threat is not over, Gov. Ned Lamont cautioned this week during a panel discussion hosted by the Yale School of Public Health that was livestreamed to ensure social distancing.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Lamont said Tuesday at Harkness Auditorium. November will be a particular period of risk, as people begin moving indoors to escape colder weather and social distancing breaks down. It is vital, he said, that the state’s nearly 3.5 million residents maintain the self-discipline that has set Connecticut on the road to recovery.
“We’ve got to be ready. Public health and public safety are side by side in our priorities,” he said.
The governor was joined by a panel of four guests, all of whom have played key roles in Connecticut’s response to the pandemic:
- Albert Ko, Yale School of Public Health professor; co-chair of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.
- Indra Nooyi, co-chair of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group; former CEO of PepsiCo.
- Maritza Bond, New Haven’s director of health.
- Justin Elicker, mayor of New Haven.
- Sten H. Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, served as moderator.
Lamont and Elicker both remarked that the Yale School of Public Health played a key role in helping the state navigate the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, and also flatten the curve and keep the number of new infections to a minimum.
“To follow the science I needed Dr. Albert Ko,” Lamont said. Ko was heavily involved in planning the strategy for the state’s reopening and the pace at which it has occurred.
Elicker thanked the school for its guidance and expertise with a contact tracing program that has been used widely in New Haven to notify people that they may have come into contact with someone who is infected with the virus.
“Our partnership with the School of Public Health was vital,” Elicker said.
While attendance at the event was limited to maintain adequate physical distancing, nearly 1,500 watched the event online and followed it on social media.
Nooyi said that the advisory group that she co-chaired with Ko strived to balance the public health needs of the state with its economic needs and the financial well-being of residents. “That was a dance that was most difficult to execute,” she said.
Ko said that the response was calibrated very carefully with people from the governor’s office.
Planning was done early, ahead of the curve and took into consideration other factors, such as education and sports, as well as economics and public health. The group put the well-being of people at the forefront.
“I think that’s how we got that special formula,” Ko said.
On the question of whether there will there be a second wave in cases later this year or early next year, Ko said it is being monitored closely and that people will have to continue taking preventive measures. “The risk of a surge is with us,” he said.
Bond, who began her position in New Haven shortly before the pandemic hit, noted that the virus exposed inequities in health outcomes among different racial and ethnic groups. Her office made communicating with the community a priority to inform people of the risks and give them the information they needed to lessen their chances of becoming ill.
Elicker also noted that elderly people in assisted living suffered the brunt of the pandemic. If there is a resurgence, special attention needs to be paid to this population. “We lost a lot of people in nursing homes,” he said.
Lamont recalled attending a governor’s meeting in late January where COVID-19 was barely mentioned. It was a distant threat at the time, and few people imagined what lay ahead. About a month later, Lamont received a phone call on a Saturday night: A nurse in Danbury was infected.
“It was right here,” he said. “The virus was marching like an army from the Greater New York area.”
Lamont moved quickly to organize the state’s response, which included forming the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group. There was a palpable fear that hospitals would be overwhelmed and unable to care for the sick and the dying.
While that scenario came close, it did not happen in Connecticut. The governor credited the people on the stage with him in Harkness with helping to blunt the pandemic’s fallout and save lives.
“We did it right, and people believe that we did it right,” Lamont said. “Our job was to lead with the science.”