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What to know about living in Connecticut during the coronavirus crisis: Staying safe, going out and getting help

A message reading "Hang in there!" with a red heart sits outside of the Noah Webster House on Tuesday, April 7 in West Hartford.
A message reading "Hang in there!" with a red heart sits outside of the Noah Webster House on Tuesday, April 7 in West Hartford. (Kassi Jackson / Hartford Courant)

As Connecticut eases out of COVID-19 lockdown, the state is facing questions on how to reopen businesses, care for its most vulnerable residents and prevent a second wave of the virus. Among the constant flow of news, there’s a lot of misinformation and rumors. Here’s a list of what you need to know to slice through the noise and find out what really matters.

Reopening the state

  • A four-stage strategy: On April 30, Gov. Ned Lamont unveiled a four-stage strategy to reopen the state beginning May 20 — as long as coronavirus hospitalizations decline, more testing becomes available and a contact tracing program gets underway. The four levels outlined in Lamont’s plan — red, orange, yellow and green — provide for a gradual easing of restrictions to enable the economy to return to normal. The final level, green, may not be achieved until 10 months from now.
  • Reopening businesses: Businesses such as restaurants, some retail stores, and hair and nail salons will be allowed to reopen with restrictions. Restaurants will be limited to outdoor seating. Lamont said smaller stores, like toy stores, shoe stores and jewelry boutiques, will be allowed to open on May 20.
  • Contact tracing: The state’s high-tech contact tracing plan will identify and trace close personal contacts of those infected by the coronavirus, something considered essential to reopening the economy by enabling public health officers to quickly identify and eliminate resurgent pockets of infection. The plan combines contact tracing — a time-tested method of fighting widespread viral infection — with hundreds of volunteer “tracers” recruited from places like medical schools and with mobile telephone technology that will allow public health officers to communicate with those who test positive for COVID-19.
A man is swabbed by a Hartford HealthCare medical professional for a COVID-19 test at The Open Hearth. Hartford HealthCare and the city of Hartford collaborated to set up the mobile site and gathered test samples from 105 individuals (clients and staff) at The Open Hearth.
A man is swabbed by a Hartford HealthCare medical professional for a COVID-19 test at The Open Hearth. Hartford HealthCare and the city of Hartford collaborated to set up the mobile site and gathered test samples from 105 individuals (clients and staff) at The Open Hearth. (Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)

Staying safe

  • Information on COVID-19 from doctors: COVID-19 is part of a family of viruses called coronaviruses, which also cause the common cold, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). The incubation period, the time between the acquisition of the virus and the time that you develop symptoms, can be anywhere from two to 14 days. There are two principal ways to get it: from droplets when someone coughs or sneezes and contact with infected surfaces.
  • If you think you have COVID-19: A referral from a medical provider is no longer required for state residents to be tested. There are testing locations across the state, though some require appointments to be made ahead of time. There is no cost to be tested for COVID-19. For more information and a list of testing sites click here.
  • Map of confirmed cases: Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Connecticut on March 8, new confirmed cases continue to be announced daily. Health experts believe the number of actual cases is far greater than the number of confirmed cases.
  • Wearing face masks: Connecticut residents are required to wear face masks in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Lamont’s executive order requires all residents to “cover their mouth and nose with a mask or cloth face-covering” when they are in public and cannot maintain social distancing. Here’s how to wear a face mask safely.
  • Grocery shopping: Gov. Lamont has issued an executive order requiring all stores to follow specific rules during the pandemic, including limiting the number of people allowed inside. LaBonne’s Markets, a chain of grocery stores in the Waterbury area, will begin checking customers’ temperatures before letting them shop.
  • Delivery and takeout: Health officials at Harvard Health said there is no evidence that the virus can spread from an infected person through food they have handled or prepared. According to the FDA, there is no evidence that food or food packaging can transmit COVID-19, though it is possible that coronavirus can survive on surfaces or objects. Here’s a searchable list of restaurants offering delivery and takeout. Some Connecticut restaurants are offering more creative takeout and delivery options for those stuck at home.
Constanza Segovia (right), Joshua Michtom (left), and 7-month-old Mailen stand for a photo outside of their bus full of food, as part of volunteer work with Mutual Aid Hartford, which helps needy people negatively impacted by the pandemic to get their basic needs met, outside of their home Wednesday, April 22, in Hartford.
Constanza Segovia (right), Joshua Michtom (left), and 7-month-old Mailen stand for a photo outside of their bus full of food, as part of volunteer work with Mutual Aid Hartford, which helps needy people negatively impacted by the pandemic to get their basic needs met, outside of their home Wednesday, April 22, in Hartford. (Kassi Jackson / Hartford Courant)

Help is out there: Food, housing and more

  • Coronavirus crisis resources in Connecticut: In our resource guide you can find where schoolchildren and adults can get access to food; housing and rental assistance; tax help; legal resources; debt relief; aid for business and energy services. We will be continuously updating this list.
  • Ask Mike: If you have questions and don’t know where to turn, Courant reporter Mike Hamad will help connect you to the resources and services you need during the coronavirus crisis. You can also ask questions on our “Connecticut Coronavirus Updates” Facebook page or on our website.
  • Rent relief for April and May: Gov. Lamont on April 10 prohibited evictions through June. The governor’s order protecting renters provides an automatic 60-day grace period for April rent and a 60-day grace period for May rent for tenants who have lost jobs or income due to COVID-19.
  • Mental health: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, new forms of help have taken root. Private practitioners, hospitals and mental health groups have begun offering online psychological help. The lineup includes sessions offered by Advocacy Unlimited in New Britain and the nine statewide affiliates of the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The state’s portal for help during the health crisis is the 211 infoline. Reaching out and connecting with family and friends — by phone, email or by video chats — is critical, experts say, in helping stem feelings of isolation. Also, online sessions on yoga and meditation are proving helpful as stress relievers.
  • Cellphone service, WiFi and data: Several companies, including Frontier, Verizon and Cox Communications among others, will not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. They will also waive late fees and open their WiFi hotspots to the public for free.
  • Car insurance: Some Connecticut automobile insurers are offering a reduction in premiums since drivers are avoiding the roads and staying home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Several companies, including GEICO, Allstate and the Travelers Cos. Inc., cut premiums by 15% for a limited time.
  • Staying positive: Even as fear and isolation are gripping our state right now, there are people stepping up in extraordinary ways to help others. Read our new “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” series for some uplifting news displaying acts of kindness and generosity.

Work and unemployment

  • Nonessential businesses ordered to close: Gov. Ned Lamont ordered “nonessential” businesses to close at 8 p.m. Monday, March 23, until at least May 20. Movie theaters, amusement parks, bowling alleys, bars and more had already been shut down. Certain essential services involving health care, food, fuel and other necessary services will remain open. Businesses deemed nonessential can file for an exception with the state Department of Economic and Community Development. They can do so here.
  • Rules for businesses still operating: The governor’s new guidelines say workers should remain 6 feet apart, wear masks and take their temperature before going to work. The rules also state that companies should “eliminate in-person meetings,’’ and, for example, make sure workers do not gather together closely during coffee and lunch breaks. Masks should be provided “wherever close personal contact is unavoidable.”
  • Connecticut restaurants ask for assistance: Though restaurants are still allowed to serve takeout, do delivery and even make home deliveries of alcohol, many are struggling to stay open. The Connecticut Restaurant Association said the industry will face numerous short- and long-term consequences without help from the state. Some restaurants have already closed permanently, and other businesses have announced layoffs.
  • Aid for small businesses: Small businesses can call the COVID-19 Business Emergency Response Unit at 860-500-2333 for assistance. Questions may also be answered by the Joint Information Center at COVID19.JIC@ct.gov. The state has extended payments due on loans through Small Business Express by 90 days. Companies and nonprofits may apply for disaster-relief funds of up to $2 million through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website or call the administration at 1-800-659-2955. The state also plans to provide $50 million in zero-interest loans to small businesses. On March 27, the state closed the initial round of funding so it could process a backlog of applications. Citizens Bank announced a $225,000 fund to support small businesses in Connecticut as part of a $5 million initiative to aid communities affected by COVID-19.
  • How to file for unemployment: As unemployment claims skyrocket, the state has eased the requirements for applying. Typically, you would only be eligible if you are actively seeking work, but during the coronavirus outbreak that requirement has been waived. You are also eligible for underemployment if you have been furloughed.
  • Worker rights and responsibilities: Employers should ensure as safe a work environment as possible for those still coming into work. Find out what rights workers have when it comes to social distancing at work, sick time and quitting an unsafe workplace.
  • Businesses that are hiring: While many businesses are taking a hit, some industries are actually hiring to cope with rising demand. From CVS and Walgreens to Amazon and pizza chains, applications are open at places across the state.
Kendel Cooper, 7, flies kites in the parking lot of the Hamden DMV with his dad, Thomas Cooper (not pictured), Friday, April 17, in Hamden. Thomas said that he and his son get out of the house for at least half an hour a day, and they can come to the DMV parking lot that's right across the street from their residence, so that Kendel can ride his scooter and other things that he can't really do in the house.
Kendel Cooper, 7, flies kites in the parking lot of the Hamden DMV with his dad, Thomas Cooper (not pictured), Friday, April 17, in Hamden. Thomas said that he and his son get out of the house for at least half an hour a day, and they can come to the DMV parking lot that's right across the street from their residence, so that Kendel can ride his scooter and other things that he can't really do in the house. (Kassi Jackson / Hartford Courant)

Schools, colleges and distance learning

  • Schools closed until fall: Gov. Lamont ordered public schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. The announcement, made on May 5, was widely expected but still came as a blow to students, parents and educators. Many schools are considering virtual graduations.
  • Schools adjust to distance learning: Schools across the state face the challenge of implementing digital distance learning programs. Organizations and donors are providing technology and materials to help with the transition. Some teachers are offering their expertise to parents now homeschooling their children and others are moving their content online for children to use while at home.
  • Getting students laptops: Connecticut’s new distance learning task force is trying to get 60,000 donated laptops into the hands of high school students in low-performing school districts, but it could take some time. Task force members said they do not expect delivery of the laptops to start until the end of April or beginning of May. Delivery could continue into June.
  • College classes move online: Universities and colleges have shifted to online learning for the remainder of the spring semester. UConn and the state’s regional universities have also announced they will issue refunds on unused housing and dining fees.
  • Graduations canceled or postponed: UConn, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system and Yale University canceled their May commencement due to the risk of COVID-19. Central Connecticut State University, which called off its May commencements, said the two ceremonies would be combined with the university’s winter commencement in December. UConn graduates will gather virtually on May 9 for an online commencement ceremony.
Matt Olson walks his 4-month-old miniature husky, Aria, at the New Haven Green Tuesday, April 28, in New Haven. "We got a quarantine baby," Olson said of his pup, who he has had for about three weeks.
Matt Olson walks his 4-month-old miniature husky, Aria, at the New Haven Green Tuesday, April 28, in New Haven. "We got a quarantine baby," Olson said of his pup, who he has had for about three weeks. (KASSI JACKSON/The Hartford Courant)

Things to do: Inside and out

  • Fun while stuck at home: From a remote book club to free online meditation classes to learning a foreign language, here’s a list of things to pass the time besides binge-watching Netflix. Many different aspects of life have found a place online, from prayer to exercise to doctor appointments.
  • Musicians play concerts online: “The Quarantined Series,” organized by Sarah Golley, feature musicians from varying genres using social media channels to share their music through videos and live-streams. There are also several local artists with new music coming out.
  • Virtual art galleries and museums: Through virtual tours, online exhibits and Facebook live events you can experience much of Connecticut’s gorgeous and engaging art exhibits right from your home. Outdoor sculpture installations are still open to the public as well. Just keep in mind social distancing.
  • Switch it up: Something as simple as a new take on game night or trying out a new workout can help keep the boredom at bay. Being at home also means more time with your pets. Here’s how to make the most of it.
  • Being social while social distancing: Homebound residents are connecting to each other in creative ways. From stuffed bear hunts to volunteers providing weekly phone check-ins to seniors, people everywhere are doing their best to raise each other’s spirits.
  • Getting outside: Connecticut State Parks and Forests are open. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection urges visitors to follow CDC guidelines like social distancing of six feet from other people and staying home if you feel sick. DEEP also encourages people to skip the most popular places, like Hammonasset Beach State Park or Sleeping Giant State, to avoid crowding. It is also closing parking lots when they become full and lowering parking thresholds at some parks. Some parks, like Kent Falls State Park and Seaside State Park in Waterford, have closed for the duration of the pandemic. Also, trail usage has skyrocketed as people look to get outside. Here’s ten places to hike that are ideal for social distancing. Most golf courses are still open, but are subject to social distancing guidelines.

More information and resources

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