RN Alyssa Anderson is one of two nurses administering the COVID-19 test to patients in their cars at Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center drive-through mobile center. Photo by Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
Back in late February as cases of coronavirus crept ever closer to Connecticut’s borders, Gov. Ned Lamont declared that we were ready to meet the challenge. Just 12 weeks later, the death toll surpassed 4,000 and life in the state changed for everyone. Here we look back through the eyes of Connecticut Public’s reporters and visual journalists as they chronicled the first three months of the pandemic.
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MARCH 6: Saint Francis Hospital and Medicine Center staff listen during a press conference at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center on the states preparedness for the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
After the press conference, Governor Ned Lamont talks with Dr. Danyal Ibrahim of Emergency Medicine.
Photos: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
For weeks, Nutmeggers had been nervously following events in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island as positive cases of coronavirus surrounded Connecticut. On March 8, 2020, state officials announced the first case of coronavirus infection in a Connecticut resident.
Public Health Emergency
MARCH 13: Nearly empty shelves of bathroom tissue is seen at ShopRite in Canton. Many Connecticut stores have seen shoppers stock up on supplies and food amid the coronavirus health crisis. Photos: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
Events moved quickly, as positive cases mounted. It became clear that the virus would spread easily, particularly in Fairfield County with its close ties to New York City. On March 10th, Gov. Ned Lamont declared a civil preparedness and public health emergency.
MARCH 12: In Hartford Juan Valenzuela wipes down a gavel and some chairs in the Senate chambers while the Connecticut State Capitol is closed for deep cleaning.
MARCH 11: In Cheshire, Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) Executive Director Glenn Lungarini stands for an interview as hundreds of high school student athletes, parents and coaches protest the cancellation of all high school winter sports tournaments as fears of spreading the coronavirus become more prevalent.
MARCH 13: In Hartford, Union Station's train and bus platforms are quiet on a Friday afternoon. Greyhound ticket agent, Jen Rivera, helps a customer. “I wear this because I don’t want to get sick and I have to come to work,” she said. Photos: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
Schools and Businesses Close
Already several school districts had independently made the decision to close their doors and either give kids vacation, or begin distance learning. Finally the Lamont administration ruled that all schools must close on March 16. Non-essential businesses closed the same day, and restaurants moved to take-out only service.
MARCH 13: Weaver High School students are dismissed at the end of the school day as Hartford Public Schools announced they are closing indefinitely to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
MARCH 16: Food & Child Nutrition Services, Hartford Public Schools cook manager Ranicsa Roman makes sure kindergartener Aaliyah Colon 5, gets two milks, one for lunch and one for breakfast. A youngster digs into his meal served by Food & Child Nutrition Services at Samuel Valentine Arroyo Recreation Center in Pope Park. Photos: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NEN)
MARCH 23: Johnathan Hilder of Hands On moving carries a box containing the belongings of undergraduate students to be moved to temporary storage. Yale university is moving belongings of students to make room for graduate students being relocated to Yale’s Old Campus. Photo: Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
When the crisis first began, Connecticut had to send samples to CDC labs in Atlanta to get them tested. But it soon became clear that testing was going to be a key to getting the crisis under control, and hospitals began ramping up efforts to provide drive through, and eventually mobile testing. Meanwhile, on March 18, Connecticut marked its first death from COVID-19. It was clear to no one then that the state would lose more than 4,000 of its residents in the first three months of the pandemic.
MARCH 18: Clinical staff at Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center prepare to register patients and administer COVID-19 tests at a drive-through mobile testing center.
RNs Alyssa Anderson (left) and June Kausch secure and fit their masks as they prepare to administer COVID-19 tests.
The chair of emergency medicine, Dr. C. Steven Wolf (left) watches as manager of emergency medical services John Quinlavin lowers the computers that will be used for registration.
A vial used for conducting the COVID-19 test.
Photos: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
Preparing For The Surge
MARCH 24: A mobile field hospital being erected by the Governor’s Foot and Horse Guard on the grounds of Saint Francis Hospital on March 24, 2020. Photo: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
By the end of March there were fears that Connecticut’s hospitals might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients suffering complications from COVID-19. On March 24, the state erected its first field hospital on the grounds of St Francis Hospital in Hartford, followed shortly after by several other surge facilities.
APRIL 1: Members of the Connecticut National Guard set up about 300 beds in the Moore Field House at Southern Connecticut State University to serve as overflow space for Yale New-Haven Hospital if COVID-19 cases surge in April.
Members of the Guard take measurements, move cots to adhere to social distance guidelines and set up dividers to be placed between patient beds.
Gov. Ned Lamont toured the facility as officials anticipate a hard month ahead as the virus spreads across the state.
Photos: Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
APRIL 15: A closed sign on a barbershop in New London on April 15. As COVID-19 cases spread across Connecticut, the state shut down barbershops and salons in March. Photo: Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
In the first two weeks after the closure of non-essential businesses, the state Department of Labor was inundated with unemployment claims. That wave became a tsunami as the weeks continued, mounting eventually to more than half a million claims — a number that the Department might normally see over four years. Meanwhile, essential workers who were still on the frontlines continued to face the danger of contracting the virus.
APRIL 22: The third day of Foodshare’s drive-through food bank at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Lines started to form around 6 a.m. on Wednesday, but workers added a second distribution line to serve hundreds of people. Foodshare workers said they want the public to know that they won’t run out of food.
Volunteers stack bags of produce and load bags of apples into cars that pass through the food drive. Most passengers driving through kept their windows up and volunteers loaded food directly into car trunks.
Brian and Claudette Whaples said they both lost their jobs in the restaurant industry due to COVID-19 restrictions. They came to the food bank because they’ve been struggling to make ends meet. “It helps,” Brian said, “We don’t go out to eat. We cook at home.” Photos: Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
COVID-19 Devastates Nursing Homes
MAY 5: An employee at nursing facility Kimberly Hall South in Windsor visits with a resident through her window. Photo: Dave Wurtzel/Connecticut Public
The first person to die in Connecticut was a man who had been in an assisted living facility in Ridgefield. It soon became clear that nursing homes and other senior living facilities would be fertile breeding grounds for the virus. Eventually, more than half of all deaths would be recorded in these places.
MAY 5: A woman holds up a baby to a window outside the Kimberly Hall South in Windsor to visits with a resident on May 5. Photo: Dave Wurtzel/Connecticut Public
APRIL 30: Tyson Belanger, owner and operator of Shady Oaks Assisted Living, says he was worried about asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 to his residents. So he asked his employees if they would live at the facility during the pandemic. Eighteen workers signed on, and for six weeks, they’ve been living behind the facility in RVs. Tyson has made his home in his office with a sleeping bag. “I love my residents and I love my caregivers… The alternative is so awful. It’s catastrophic,” he said. Photo: Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
Marking Traditions In Isolation
Spring is a time of major religious festivals in many faith traditions. This year, celebrations became memorials; a way of marking what we had lost, and reclaiming a sense of community we had to recreate in isolation.
APRIL 12: During an Easter Sunday service, Pastor AJ Johnson of the Urban Hope Refuge Church in Hartford preaches to the congregation who worshiped from their parked their cars. Congregants dressed in their Easter finest enjoyed a musical performance as part fo the service. Photos: Tyler Russell/Connecticut Public
First Death In Prison
APRIL 1: At Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville (above), multiple inmates and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19. Photo: Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public APRIL 6: (Below, right) Cars lined up outside of the Connecticut Governor’s Residence in Hartford to protest Governor Lamont’s refusal to release inmates at risk of COVID-19. Protesters remained in their cars honking and waving signs. Photo: Tyler Russell/Connecticut Public
COVID-19 spread easily in nursing homes. It also spread widely in Connecticut’s prison system, which eventually recorded more than 400 cases of coronavirus infection. On April 13, the system saw the first death of an inmate. While the Department of Correction made efforts to reduce the prison population through early releases, activists continued to protest that prisoners were being put at risk.
Connecticut passed a grim milestone on April 17, recording a thousand deaths from COVID-19. Meanwhile, the pandemic was exposing the wide disparities in outcomes in Connecticut as communities of color and immigrants continued to bear the brunt of illness and death.
MAY 14: Patrice Evans waits in line at a newly opened COVID-19 mobile testing center in the north end of Hartford on May 12. It is the city’s first walk-up mobile testing site. Photo: Tyler Russell/Connecticut Public
MAY 12: Monique Coleman registers for, and receives, a COVID-19 test at a mobile testing site in the parking lot of Phillips Health Center on Main Street. Many Hartford residents wait in line at the city's first walk-up mobile testing site in the North End. Photo: Tyler Russell/Connecticut Public
MAY 1: Protesters with signs attached to their vehicles, including Marylu Sarmiento of West Haven (center) call for support for immigrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic during the "COVID-safe car protest" in downtown Hartford. Jhon Molina immigrated from Columbia and lives in New Haven. He rents out apartments there and came to the rally to call for relief for immigrants and renters. “I have to support the people,” he said. Photos by Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public.
By April 17, hospitalizations had reached their peak in the hardest hit county, Fairfield. Peaks followed within the next ten days in Hartford and then New Haven. Gov. Ned Lamont announced that a decline in hospitalizations, maintained over two weeks, would be the signal that the worst is past and he would consider reopening parts of the state. But he announced that schools would finish out the academic year online.
APRIL 17: Connecticut National Guard members, police, and CVS employees work at Connecticut’s first rapid COVID-19 center in New Haven. Using the new Abbott ID NOW™ COVID-19 test, CVS Health is planning to conduct up to 750 tests per day, seven days a week.
Sr. Airman Michael Choothesa of the Connecticut National Guard directs a car to the next station, and a medical worker stands between tents at Connecticut’s first COVID-19 rapid testing center in New Haven. Photos: Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
APRIL 10: Hospital staff thank local fire, police departments, and EMS as they pay tribute to the healthcare providers at Saint Mary’s Hospital who are on the front lines taking care of patients with COVID-19 on April 10 in Waterbury. Photo: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
First Businesses Reopen
MAY 12: Hair Stylist Georgeanne DeCosta and Linda Findley, co-owners of Michael Richards Salon keep their social distance while talking at the Shelton Square Shopping Center in Shelton. Photo: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
On May 20, restaurants could resume service — but only outdoors. Malls reopened, but not all their stores followed suit. And two days before the reopening, hair salons were told they would have to remain shut.
MAY 12: Hair Stylist Georgeanne DeCosta clips the hair of her 5-year-old son Rock in their home on May 12, 2020 in Shelton.
MAY 28: Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo has been closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Director Gregg Dancho talks about how the zoo is preparing to open following federal and state precautions June 1st, and Animal Care Specialist Chris Barker checks enclosure security of the critically endangered Amur Leopards. Photos: Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC
JUNE 4: Carrie Phimvongsa leads an employee into her family restaurant in Enfield on the first day that restaurants could welcome customers dining on the premises. Face coverings are part of the new normal restaurants must practice. Photos: Frankie Graziano/Connecticut Public
Is The Wave Over?
Connecticut’s casinos reopened June 1, along with hair salons and Beardsley Zoo. But are we all ready to resume normal life, and has the threat from coronavirus subsided?
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