Lamont: Struggling CT businesses will get more COVID relief by new year

Nurse Elizabeth Wible administers the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Dr. Frantz Hastrup at Stamford Hospital on Thursday.

Gov. Ned Lamont Monday unveiled a $35 million grant program intended as a “bridge” until the federal government provides a second round of COVID-19 relief.

The grants will give struggling businesses between $10,000 and $30,000 by the new year. The governor’s office is projecting the checks will go out to 1,500 to 2,000 businesses in the state.

Lamont said Commissioner David Lehman, of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, has an index of the hardest hit businesses in the state — “most of it restaurants, bars” the governor said.

The state has already distributed $50 million in grants to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. Those $5,000 grants went to 10,000 companies around the state.

In a statement, the head of the Connecticut Restaurant Association praised the decision, noting they had been advocating for additional relief since September.

“Connecticut and its restaurants are not out of the woods yet,” said Scott Dolch, executive director of the restaurant association. “In the months ahead, we will continue to go above and beyond to keep our customers and our employees safe, and we urge the dining public to continue supporting their local restaurants and all small businesses across Connecticut.”

Monday’s announcement targets “midsize” companies for relief until an expected second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans through the federal government.

Lamont said that program is expected “hopefully by the end of January.”

Congressional leaders said this weekend they were nearing a deal on a $900 billion second round of COVID-19 relief, the Associated Press reported. The bill includes a round of stimulus checks to qualified individuals and households as well as increased unemployment payments. The bill also includes aid for small businesses, schools, child care and money for vaccine distribution.

“I’m very confident, and I wouldn’t have said this for the last six months, it’ll be voted on in the next 12, 24 hours,” Lamont said Monday.

News of relief efforts came as nearly 100 Connecticut residents died with COVID over the weekend, but hospitalizations associated with the disease continued to decline.

There were 4,595 new COVID cases reported over the weekend in 88,731 tests for a positivity rate of 5.18 percent.

Another 95 deaths attributed to the disease were reported Monday, bringing the statewide death toll to 5,676.

Hospitalizations continued to decline, with 24 fewer patients hospitalized for the illness since Friday, bringing the total to 1,143.

The governor pointed to “stabilized” hospitalizations as a reason not to push the state into another lockdown, but still urged residents to remain cautious and avoid gatherings during the upcoming holidays.

Lamont said his vaccine advisory group has recommended that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine be authorized in the state and about 63,000 doses of it are being shipped here this week.

Lamont said he directed the state Department of Public Health to add Moderna’s vaccine to Connecticut’s vaccination program. The co-chairs of the governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group’s Science Subcommittee authored a report indicating full confidence in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s approval process.

The state began vaccinating health care workers last Monday, making its way to staff and residents at long-term care facilities by Friday.

Last week, the state received 31,200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, Lamont said. Another 24,375 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to arrive this week.

Under the first phase of the state’s vaccination program, the focus is on health care workers and medical first responders, as well as staff and residents at the state’s long-term care facilities.

As of Monday, 7,761 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Connecticut, according to the governor. The number includes health care workers and staff and residents at nursing homes. So far, nine nursing homes have had their staff and residents vaccinated with the first dose, with 75 more scheduled this week, according to the governor’s office.

Vaccinations are expected to start at assisted living facilities in the second or third week of January, said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer.

“This is another important step forward in getting this vaccine to as many people in our state so that we can better manage this disease and prevent its spread,” Lamont said in a statement. “We’re doing everything we can to get as many doses to the people who need it most, and over the coming days and weeks we expect our supply to significantly grow.”

The governor also added a third tier to the groups next in line to receive the vaccine after health care workers and nursing home residents. That came a day after a federal advisory panel recommended people 75 and older and essential workers should be next in line, the Associated Press reported.

The move puts people between the ages of 65 and 74 behind essential workers. People with high-risk medical conditions between the ages of 16 and 64 are also in the new third tier.

That group, called “Phase 1C,” under the state’s plan, comes after first responders, teachers, or as the governor described it, those who under a lockdown “still have to show up to work.”

While staff at correctional facilities were still listed in the second tier, it remained unclear whether inmates would be bumped down the line. Geballe said the governor’s vaccine advisory group is still working on how the vaccine should be allocated.

President-Elect Joe Biden received the vaccine during a televised event in Delaware in which he urged Americans to get the shot once it becomes available, the Associated Press reported.

Asked when he’d take the vaccine, Lamont said again on Monday that he was still weighing the decision.

Connecticut Media Group