Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that Connecticut will eliminate capacity limits on restaurants, houses of worship, retailers and most businesses on March 19 but will retain mandates for social distancing and masks as a precaution against a resurgence of COVID-19.
The rollback comes as about 60% of Connecticut residents 65 and older have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, helping to drive down hospitalizations, new infections and deaths to their lowest point in 2021, though still higher than last summer.
The governor’s announcement was expected. It comes after Texas, Mississippi and three other states took more aggressive steps to end mask mandates and business restrictions, a move denounced as premature by President Joe Biden.
Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday he is throwing out the state’s current playbook for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout – which had prioritized people with underlying medical conditions and certain types of workers, such as grocery store and agricultural employees – and is shifting to a system that is strictly age-based, with the next round of shots open to people who are 55 to 64 beginning March 1.
The announcement came just as the state was supposed to open up the next round of vaccines to “essential workers” such as teachers and other school staff, grocery store employees and transportation workers, as well as people 16 and older who have underlying health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
State officials said teachers and others who work in the schools will still be prioritized in the coming weeks, with special clinics devoted just to those employees. Schools staff is expected to become eligible beginning March 1, with a goal of giving all workers who want a shot access to a first dose by late March.
But the governor’s announcement Monday — which ironically was made the same day the national Food Industry Association celebrated “Supermarket Employee Day” — shifted to a priority system that is strictly age-based, with one exception: school employees and child care providers. The next round of shots will open March 1 to people who are between ages 55 and 64, teachers and others who work in schools, and day care workers.
Besides grocery story workers, the administration also had been considering giving priority in this next phase to transportation workers, as well as people 16 and older who have underlying health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and teachers and other school staff. Only the last group is being given priority in Lamont’s new plan.
In announcing a surprising new vaccine distribution plan Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont said Connecticut’s approach was designed with two factors in mind: speed and equity.
“Broadly speaking, these are our goals for vaccination,” Lamont said. “Get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can … and complement that with equity, knowing full that our Black and brown population here in this state and around the country are twice as likely to suffer complications from an infection and half as likely to get vaccinated.”
But experts are divided on whether the new strategy will truly accomplish those goals — and particularly whether it will truly maximize equity. While state and hospital officials say this plan, which establishes priority groups almost strictly by age, will create a smoother, faster rollout, skeptics worry the new eligibility guidelines are not as inclusive as those the Lamont administration jettisoned.
For some municipal leaders, the state legislature’s 2015 promise to send hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue to cities and towns is one of the worst examples of fiscal bait-and-switch in Connecticut politics.
And for the Democratic state legislators — who won re-election after making that pledge — the promise is something they’d like to forget.
That’s because the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account, the mechanism through which municipalities would receive a portion of the state sales tax, also has become a recurring pain in the legislature’s side.
The state is closing the two COVID-19 recovery centers for nursing home residents in Meriden and Torrington because the number of infections has fallen to the point that they are no longer necessary.
“Athena Health Care Systems was pleased to partner with the state of Connecticut to operate COVID recovery centers in Meriden and Torrington to help some of our most vulnerable patients recover as well as keep our nursing home residents safe,” Athena Director of Marketing Timothy Brown said.
“We are pleased to say that we are now able to close both recovery centers. It really is positive news — it means that things are going in the right direction when it comes to this pandemic and that the recovery center model has worked.”
Lamont’s budget does nothing to address the fact that Connecticut has some of the highest property taxes in the country. This massive tax burden hurts young families looking to settle down and grow; it hurts small businesses that have already been crushed by the pandemic; and it pushes seniors to find greener and cheaper pastures for retirement. The average Connecticut homeowner pays an astounding $5,327 per year — the highest property tax rate in New England. This puts us at a competitive disadvantage when our neighbors in New York and Massachusetts have more affordable property tax rates.
Nor does the governor do anything to address the structural budget deficits looming just over the hill. Instead, he reminds us we have a well-funded rainy-day fund and friends in Washington to bail us out. When your strategy is to drain your reserves and count on a global pandemic, you, in fact, have no strategy.
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States like Illinois, New York and California have long histories of financial negligence. California ran a budget deficit during seven of the last 16 years, according to a Wirepoints analysis of Pew Charitable Trust data. Connecticut has 10 years of deficits to its name. New York has 11. And Illinois and New Jersey have run budget deficits every year since at least 2004.
And then there’s the problem of pensions. States like Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey all have amassed hundreds of billions in pension debt – all self-inflicted by state lawmakers.
The pandemic had nothing to do with those past deficits and debts, but that’s exactly what more federal aid would end up paying for.