NORWALK, Conn. – Calf Pasture Beach may reopen within two weeks. A tractor trailer full of food was expected Wednesday evening in Norwalk.
News updates like that and much medical information are among the fruits delivered recently via online town hall meetings held by Mayor Harry Rilling and State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25).
“We know people are frustrated, we know people want to get out and get some exercise and fresh air. I have my city working on a transition plan so we can start to gradually ease some of the restrictions, but we have to be smart about it,” Rilling said Wednesday evening.
“We may be just past the peak of COVID-19, we see the positive cases are declining, the hospitalizations are turning down,” Norwalk Director of Health Deanna D’Amore said Monday. “…But we know that it’s important not to relax the guidelines right now, because we still don’t know how many people have the virus or knowingly on asymptomatic. And if we relax things too soon, we could see the cases and hospitalizations increase again.”
This isn’t the flu
D’Amore and Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels joined Rilling for a virtual town hall Monday evening.
“The reason why we have to rely on these physical distancing measures is because we don’t, you know, we don’t have a vaccine. We’ve never seen this before. It’s a brand new virus,” D’Amore said.
The 2017-18 flu season was “one of the highest” over the last decade and 184 people died from flu in Connecticut, she said.
By comparison, the State reported 2,168 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday. Norwalk has lost 72 people to COVID-19.
There are 26,767 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Connecticut as of Wednesday; D’Amore said there were just under 4,000 flu cases statewide in 2017-18.
People want to see statistics on recoveries, but there’s no standard definition of recovery, D’Amore said. “There’s a range of symptoms and severity for people who have the illness. And we don’t have a good way of collecting that data either. And so that’s something that we’re aware of or thinking about.”
“There are many people in the city of Norwalk who are going without food. They don’t have the financial means when things are good. Now it’s even more difficult for them to obtain food for their families,” Rilling said Monday.
“We are hearing that the food bank will be getting food, but we may not see that until June or July,” Daniels said. “We want to help and support our food pantries now, so for those who are looking to donate or provide food, please consider your food pantries.”
The demand for food is up 50 percent since March, Duff said at his Wednesday Facebook town hall, where Rilling was his guest.
“The Food Bank ran out of food at one point, was not able to supply food to some very needy people here in the city,” Rilling replied. “The good news is that this evening around nine o’clock, we should have a truck coming in from Pennsylvania with food on it. It was arranged with some local clergy, with my wife, who reached out, and they hired a trailer to go out and pick up the food and they’re bringing it back. Unfortunately, the trailer broke down halfway and they got it fixed. So won’t be coming until nine o’clock and I want to give a shout out to Stew Leonard who’s allowing us to borrow one of his refrigerator trucks so we can keep the food overnight so won’t spoil.”
Duff said he’d been in a Zoom meeting with the Connecticut Farm Bureau and, “They have a lot of food. They’re going to they’re hurting a lot right now.”
That’s not just farms, that includes Norwalk shellfish businesses, Duff said. They can’t get their food to the people.
“There’s lots product out there right now. So we’re working hard to make sure that the farmers markets and other ways that we help our residents here in Connecticut, get the food that they need and get homegrown food,” Duff said.
Restarting the economy
“There are criteria for reopening our state, which includes 14 days of downward trend of deaths and hospitalizations, mass screenings, contact tracing and isolation, enough PPE for everyone,” Duff said last week.
You can look back at the 1918 flu pandemic and see the mistakes that were made, and some states are doing that now, Rilling said. People went to Spring Break in Florida and brought COVID-19 back to their communities and places like Tennessee opened up too early and their infection rates are “through the roof.”
“This is a very delicate balance. I think we all want to open things up as quickly as possible. But we have to be very careful,” Rilling said.
“No playdates, no sleepovers, no getting together with friends, don’t cheat. It’s very tempting to cheat. We all haven’t seen our family in a very long time,” Rilling said.
“We also probably all know people who have passed away,” Duff replied.
“I could imagine that when we ease the restrictions on the barbershops and hair salons, that we’re going to still require that they take some special precautions, whether it’s face coverings, whether it’s gloves, whether it’s limited number of people in the in the establishment at any given time,” Rilling said. “Those are all things that we’re going to have to decide, make our base our decisions on.”
It’s important that reopening be done regionally, because it’s easy for people to swarm into an area where the restaurants are allowing diners in again, Duff said.
“That’s part of the delicate dance on how to balance this out the best, the best possible way that we can,” Duff said.
“My team has been charged with putting together a transition plan or proposal where we can start thinking about moving back to some degree of normalcy,” Rilling said Monday. “We know that the normal that we knew will probably never be the same again.”
“It’s going to be a slow transition,” D’Amore said. “The new normal will involve thinking about the practices that we’re putting in place to protect these central businesses right now.”
Director of Recreation and Parks Nick Roberts is working on a plan to reopen Calf Pasture Beach, Rilling said.
“But I caution people, and I know the vast majority people really get it and they’re very responsible, but there are others who just don’t seem to think that this is a critical situation. A beach in California opened up and 40,000 people went to the beach and they had to close at the very next day because they were not adhering to social distancing,” Rilling said. “So when we start to open up the beaches when we start to open up the parks, hopefully within the next week and a half to 10 days, or if the medical professionals are saying it’s safe to do so. We hope that people abide by those guidelines.”
In the meantime, “We’re trying to be as lenient as we possibly can,” Rilling said. “So, you know, there were people parked along Canfield Road the other day, and nobody was given a ticket. We understand that people want to go to the beach. The main problem was when the beach was open to vehicle traffic, and we had hundreds and hundreds of cars in the beach and people were just not maintaining that physical distance.”
It can’t be 80 percent of the people complying, Rilling said. It has to be everyone.
“This virus is so contagious, we cannot treat this casually. You have to understand this is a very, very serious disease,” Rilling said. “… I think exercising is important for our physical or mental health. We have to be very, very careful about how close we get to people and crowding in for anything else.”
Duff had Dr. Amy Ahasic, a Norwalk Hospital pulmonologist, on as a guest last week.
“We’re used to taking care of really sick people,” Ahasic said on April 22. “But, you know, the numbers we’ve seen and some unique features of this disease in particular, I think, are really memorable, and are really challenging how we think about what we do for people. It’s really hard to not have a clear treatment other than supportive care, and we do a really good job in supportive care.”
Norwalk Hospital has had the resources it needs due to the public’s compliance with the requests for physical distancing, she said.
“We have ventilators, we have beds, because we’ve been able to kind of have that steady flux as opposed to a huge spike. And so in that sense, I think what we’re doing here, although it’s so hard, it is working,” Ahasic said.
And, “Even though we know age is a risk, we are seeing young people … so just because you’re young and healthy does not mean you are guaranteed of not getting really sick with coronavirus,” she said.
Norwalk Hospital has “overflowed into an entirely new ICU that never existed before,” she said. Things are being done a little differently, “like in the intensive care unit, trying to pull some IV pumps outside the room so that people don’t have to go in and out of the room every time they need to change a medicine and, and doing a lot of visual exam through the window.” But she does don PPE and examine each patient “and it’s a lot of patients.”
The novel coronavirus attacks the lungs in ways that are similar to “other viruses or infections that get out of control” but “there do seem to be differences with this disease in sort of the severity, and also there seems to be clotting that may be happening in the lungs on a very, very small vessels. And things that really aren’t quite the same as the typical ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome).”
The death rate for COVID-19 is much higher than with the traditional flu, she said. “Obesity seems to be a factor that’s really emerged as a risk factor here that we didn’t really see in China, because they don’t have the obesity rates that we do.”
Everyone at Norwalk Hospital is “working really hard, and we’re all pretty tired,” she said. “But at the same time, I mean, we went into this field to take care of people and this is a wonderful moment to be able to help people.”
“We are in a downward trend. We’re seeing fewer hospitalizations,” Rilling said Monday. “…The good news is most people do end up recovering. The bad part of that is that perhaps there’s some permanent physical damage that they’re experiencing, whether it be respiratory or other. But it’s hard to tell if the worst is over. That’s why we’re being very cautious on how we decide to ease some of the restrictions, we want to make sure that we’re on a significant downward trend, and that we can feel that these we sufficiently slow the spread of the virus.”
“It’s a whole community effort to so you know, it really takes a whole community to keep this downward trend going,” D’Amore said.
Daniels encouraged parents to talk about the virus with their children because “we’re also relying on them to take this serious so they’re not passing it on.”
“When I drive around the city a lot, and I sit in the parking lot, sometimes just watch what’s happening with the stores,” Rilling said Wednesday. “And I want people to know, we are also sending inspectors from our health department randomly to some of the bigger retail stores to make sure that they are abiding by the guidelines, the governor’s executive orders or local executive orders.”
On Tuesday, he sat outside ShopRite while his wife got groceries, “and I saw people coming out with toilet paper,” Rilling said. “Today, I was able to get a can of Lysol spray to help disinfect some of the areas, so …the critical items, the high demand items are starting to make a rebound.”
But, “It’s too early to tell exactly how much longer we’re going to have to have some of these protocols and restrictions in place,” Rilling said. “The last thing I want to do is take our foot off the gas at this particular point, and have us move backwards and see a second wave worse than the first.”
Duff plans an Instagram town hall at 7 p.m. Sunday, with Dr. Albert Ko, Yale University Department Chair and Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) and of Medicine (Infectious Diseases), as a guest.