Connecticut political leaders had mixed views — and lots of questions — after President Donald Trump said Saturday a coronavirus quarantine might be needed for residents of their state, as well as New York and New Jersey. But the president backed away from the idea late Saturday and tweeted that a travel advisory would be issued. Meanwhile, New Haven worked with local universities to set up temporary housing for first responders — and Yale reversed an initial answer that it couldn’t do so for weeks.
Here are the latest coronavirus developments:
A TRI-STATE QUARANTINE?
Trump told reporters at the White House he was weighing the idea of a quarantine to prevent people in the tri-state area from travelling for a short time, but he later said he’d settled on a travel advisory.
Taken by surprise, some Connecticut officials wondered what such a quarantine would mean and how it would work. Others said they were open to any ideas on preventing the virus’ spread.
Gov. Ned Lamont said Trump’s comments created some confusion, and that he hoped the White House would clarify what it wants by the end of Saturday evening.
He got his wish. Trump tweeted late in the day that he’d spoken to all three governors and at the recommendation of his task force was asking the Centers for Disease Control to issue a travel advisory for the area.
“Confusion can lead to panic,” Lamont, a Democrat, told a news conference. He said such a quarantine order would be impossible to enforce, ”given the spiderweb of roads.”
In broaching the idea, the president cited requests from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican and outspoken Trump supporter. DeSantis has complained that people have come to his state from New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, and ordered them to isolate themselves on arrival for 14 days.
All 50 U.S. states have reported some cases of the virus that causes COVID-19. The federal government has the power to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases among states, but it’s not clear whether that means Trump can order people not to leave their states.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. said the idea raises “very significant questions,” calling it unclear how such a quarantine would be enforced and whether it would have any meaning.
“The specifics and impact are completely unclear and uncertain,” he said, noting that Lamont has already directed the state’s residents to self-quarantine.
Since Trump has said he wants the country “opened up and just raring to go” by Easter, Blumenthal suggested the quarantine idea “just adds to the confusion.”
In Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city, Mayor Joe Ganim said he wouldn’t dismiss anybody’s ideas for stronger measures to contain the outbreak. Bridgeport is 50 miles (80 km) from New York City and is within Fairfield County, which counts over 750 of the more than 1,200 coronavirus cases reported statewide.
“I’m open to doing whatever it takes to stay ahead of this,” said Ganim, a Democrat. “We are evaluating and deliberating and open to ideas from the president, our governor, and other mayors.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker also said officials need to look at “all kinds of ways to make sure that people stop interacting with each other.” But he cautioned that a forced quarantine could have unintended consequences.
“Does that cover health care workers? Does that cover someone that works at a gas station that a health care worker may need to get gas to get to the hospital?” the Democrat asked. “If the president does end up implementing this, I think we have to be cautious about how we implement it.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
CAMPUS HOUSING FOR FIRST RESPONDERS
Police and firefighters who are awaiting coronavirus test results or have relatives who have been exposed to the virus will be able to move into a University of New Haven dormitory in the coming days, Elicker said.
But Yale University initially declined his request to make rooms available promptly, though the Ivy League school changed course Saturday.
The number of cases in New Haven has doubled to more than 50 in recent days, and Yale New Haven Hospital physicians have warned that the city may be at the beginning of a surge of new cases. Dr. Rick Martinello said Friday the peak could be two to four weeks out.
Yale said Friday that it couldn’t make dorm rooms available for weeks because students’ belongings were still there. Elicker, who has a Yale master’s degree in business and environmental management, noted that UNH had managed to clear space quickly.
“Generally, in times of crisis, we’re looking for everyone not to find ways to say no but to find ways to say yes,” the mayor said at an online news conference Saturday.
Yale President Peter Salovey said Saturday that the university would make 300 beds available for first responders and hospital personnel by the end of this coming week.
“We are eager to help New Haven with this need,” Salovey said in a statement, noting that Yale is also working to provide swift testing for first responders in its labs and is raising a $5 million fund to help the city deal with the virus outbreak. The university is contributing $1 million.
Town-gown relations have hit rocky points many times over their centuries-long history. But “now more than ever, Yale and City Hall need to be on the same page,” Salovey said.
Elicker said he’d also discussed the temporary housing need with Southern Connecticut State University.
The Connecticut National Guard has deployed two climate-controlled tents at the VA Medical Center in Newington to deal with possible patient overflow in the future, similar to tents put up on grounds of the VA hospital in West Haven, Lamont said Friday.
Mobile field hospitals have also been set up on the grounds of Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford and Danbury Hospital and another one was expected to be set up at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown in the coming days, he said.