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Reopening CT: Answers to your questions during News 8’s ‘COVID-19: The Virtual Town Hall’

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — As Connecticut gets ready for Phase One of reopening the state, there are plenty of questions about what to expect. To answer some of them, on Monday, News 8 brought together government and community leaders for “COVID-19: The Virtual Town Hall.”

The group touched on topics such as Governor Ned Lamont’s last-minute decision to delay reopening hair salons and barbershops, the financial impact the virus is having on cities and towns and different industries, as well as specific questions sent in from News 8 viewers.

Below is a rundown of the featured guests and key discussions of the evening:

Governor Ned Lamont: Sworn in as the 89th Governor of the state of Connecticut in January of 2019, Edward Miner “Ned” Lamont has been involved in public service since shortly after college. Lamont served as First Selectman of Greenwich from 1987 to 1989, and ran for U.S. Senate in 2006.

Lamont earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Harvard before earning an MBA from the Yale School of Management.

WATCH: Lamont talks about his last-minute decision to delay reopening of hair salons and barbershops

During his time in office, Lamont has signed 48 Executive Orders, with 42 of those Orders coming as part of the governor’s efforts to help the state battle the coronavirus pandemic. On March 20, Lamont signed Executive Order 7H – known to the public as “Stay Safe, Stay Home.” Now, nearly two months later, Connecticut finds itself on the cusp of gradually reopening as the numbers for coronavirus hospitalizations continue to trend down, while testing numbers continue to trend upward.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, many of Lamont’s legislative initiatives focused on the economy of the state, including signing legislation that raised the minimum wage in Connecticut to $11/hour, and will eventually raise that rate to $15/hour. Several other initiatives focused on Connecticut’s role in battling climate change.

Senator Richard Blumenthal: Serving his 2nd term as Senator, Richard Blumenthal was originally elected in 2010 and sworn in on Jan. 5, 2011. Senator Blumenthal graduated from Harvard College, and Yale Law School, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Journal.

Blumenthal is a member of many committees in the Senate, including Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services.

Prior to his election to the Senate, Blumenthal served five terms as Connecticut’s Attorney General, serving the state in that role from 1991-2011. As Attorney General, he advocated for reforms in the health insurance industry to assure critical health care coverage and lower pharmaceutical drug prices. 

Before his tenure as Attorney General, Blumenthal was a member of both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly, serving a term in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1984-1987, and the Connecticut Senate from 1987-1990.

In late January, Blumenthal joined Senator Chris Murphy and 28 Democratic colleagues in the Senate, sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking him to keep Congress updated with the latest information regarding the severity of the disease. They also asked Azar about the nation’s capacity to diagnose cases, what steps were being taken to prepare U.S. health care workers and how many passengers at U.S. airports have been screened.

At the time, Connecticut was one of 23 states in the U.S. in which the Centers for Disease Control had tested residents for the novel coronavirus.

Watch: Senator Blumenthal discusses striking the balance between being cautious and moving ahead with reopening

In late March Blumenthal joined fellow Senator Chris Murphy in announcing nearly $1.2 million in federal grants to help Connecticut health centers in emergency planning and response to the coronavirus pandemic. That funding was part of the first stimulus package approved by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Chris Murphy: Chris Murphy has been the junior United States Senator for Connecticut since 2013. Before that, he served in the United States House of Representatives, representing the state’s 5th congressional district from 2007 to 2013. Before the Democratic party member was elected to Congress, Murphy was a member of both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly, serving a term in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1999-2003, and the Connecticut Senate from 2003-2007.

At one point, at age 39, Murphy was the youngest Senator of the 113th Congress. Murphy is currently a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Appropriations Committee. He was also a leading proponent in commonsense reforms to reduce gun violence.  Murphy, now 46, grew up in Wethersfield but currently resides in Cheshire, with his wife Catherine Holahan, an attorney, and their two sons.

Watch: Senator Murphy on what the federal government can do to help families

Murphy has openly criticized the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus, at one point tweeting that “they aren’t taking this seriously enough.” He also questioned the Coronavirus Task Force members at the Senate HELP Committee hearing on May 12. Additionally, Murphy lead the charge on the Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act, a bill he says “calls for a minimum of 500 million N95 masks and pairs of medical gloves, 20 million face shields and surgical gowns, and 200,000 medical ventilators, and allows these powers to be used to set production goals for any other products deemed integral to this response.”

Congressman John Larson: Larson has served as a U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s First District for 11 terms. The First District covers the north-central part of Connecticut, a section of the state that Larson is familiar with, as he was born and raised in East Hartford.

Before becoming a Congressman, Larson taught history and coached football at Penney High School. He also graduated from CCSU in 1971 with a Bachelor’s Degree. Larson then worked his way up from the East Hartford Board of Education to Town Council, then to the Connecticut State Senate in 1982, serving the 3rd Senate District. He also served as Senate President Pro Tempore for eight years.

WATCH: Larson says America made it through the Great Depression, so we will make it out of the pandemic

Larson is part of a team that is vital in the country’s efforts in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and getting states open safely. In mid-April, Larson was appointed to be a member of the White House’s Congressional Task Force, which is responsible for strategizing a plan for the nation to combat the spread of coronavirus and to open statewide and nationwide economies.

One of his many priorities as a Task Force member is introducing a science-based plan for the country to follow, which includes protecting essential workers, healthcare workers, and first responders.

On May 1, 2020, Larson, along with two other U.S. Representatives, sent a letter to The House urging them to send future stimulus aid to national service priorities and invest in Corporation for National and Community Service (CNSC) to help them with recovery efforts. The letter stated that providing funding for the CNCS will allow them to hire 500,000 more volunteers who can “lay the groundwork to expand this force as necessary to properly invest in the future and recovery of the nation.”

Congressman Joe Courtney: Courtney was elected to the House of Representatives to represent Connecticut’s Second District in 2006. He serves on the House Education and Labor Committee, is the Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces and co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus. Since his swearing-in, he has been a tireless advocate for both U.S. veterans and those enlisted in the armed forces.

Because of funding and resources Congressman Courtney secured, Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, has been building two submarines per year since 2011 and has expanded its production in New London and add to the growing workforce in Connecticut.

WATCH: Congressman Joe Courtney talks about COVID-19’s impacts on agriculture, dairy industries

During this tenure as a representative for the citizens of Vernon in the CT General Assembly from 1987-94, then state-Rep. Courtney served as House Chairman for both the Public Health and Human Services Committees.

On May 8, Courtney announced over $800,000 in federal funding to support testing in New London and Windham counties. That funding was authorized as part of the bipartisan CARES Act, and will be used specifically to expand the range of COVID-19 testing and testing activities in eastern Connecticut.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro: Rosa DeLauro, 77, has represented the state’s Third Congressional District since Jan. 3, 1991. The Democrat serves as the Co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and is the Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where she oversees the United State’s investments in education, health and employment. During her time, she has fought for families and better pay — among other things.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, DeLauro has been vocal about keeping communication open between the government and the people. She spoke exclusively with News 8 about how the federal government planned to handle health funding during that time. 

Watch: Congresswoman DeLauro discusses battling food insecurity

DeLauro was in favor of the Trump administration’s decision to declare the pandemic a public health emergency but hoped experts would not be silenced. “I support the administration’s declaration of a public health emergency,” she said in February.

“That said, I have grave concerns about the lack of transparency and unwillingness to allow public health experts to speak freely about what is happening.” As COVID-19 continues to spread, DeLauro remains adamant about hearing from people about the struggles they’re facing, even asking for people to share their hardships with her. 

Congressman Jim Himes: Serving his sixth term representing Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District, Himes was first sworn into that office in 2009 after defeating incumbent Chris Shays in 2008.

Himes is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services, serves as the Chair of the Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research (STAR) Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and is Chair Emeritus of the New Democrat Coalition.

Prior to his service in Congress, Himes ran the New York City branch of The Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the unique challenges of urban poverty. His team led the way in financing the construction of thousands of affordable housing units in the greater New York metropolitan region, often using new green technologies to achieve energy efficiency and reduce utility costs.

Watch: Congressman Himes on the changed college experience during the pandemic

Since the Fourth District encompasses most of Fairfield County, Himes is representative of the state’s first coronavirus “hot spot.” He also has a personal connection to the fight against the pandemic, as his younger sister is a doctor who treats COVID-19 patients in Pittsburgh, PA.

On April 20, Himes announced that colleges and universities in Southwest Connecticut will receive a total of $37,855,848 from the newly created Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Half of this fund, $18,927,926, is specifically designated for emergency cash grants to eligible students in need of assistance.

Congresswoman Jahana Hayes: Hayes, serving her first term as the U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s 5th congressional district, is the first African-American woman and African-American Democrat to represent Connecticut in Congress. She also currently sits on the full House committees of Education and Labor, and Agriculture. 

A school teacher before running for political office, Hayes was first awarded Connecticut Teacher of the Year, before being recognized in 2016 as National Teacher of the Year.  The 47-year-old lives in Wolcott with her husband Milford Hayes and their four children.

Hayes joined other Congress members to call for a $100 billion investment in the child care sector following the coronavirus pandemic.  They proposed providing $50 billion in the form of short-term stabilization funding and an additional $50 billion in long-term recovery funding to support students, families and providers.

Watch: Congresswoman Hayes discusses how her personal experience with COVID-19 impacted her views of the virus

On April 30, Hayes announced that her husband, a detective in the city of Waterbury, tested positive for COVID-19. Hayes herself tested negative but told News 8 that long-term funding is needed for coronavirus research.

State Representative Themis Klarides: State Representative Themis Klarides is serving in her tenth term representing the 114th House District which includes Woodbridge, Orange and Derby. 

In 2014 House Republicans voted unanimously for Klarides as the House Republican leader, making her the first woman to hold that position. She was re-elected to that post in 2016. She has worked closely with The Umbrella, Center for Domestic Violence Services (A program of BHcare), working to assist victims of domestic violence and providing volunteer legal assistance to women and children at the shelter for victims of domestic violence.

WATCH: Klarides calls for specials session because of inconsistencies in decisions from the governor

WATCH: “That’s their prerogative”: Lamont says legislatures can go into a special session but says state leaders are doing what they can

Klarides announced in April that she will not be seeking re-election this year, but that her time in public service is not over.

“Times change and we have to move on and make decisions about balancing life and how we can best serve those that rely on us,’’ Klarides said. “This is the end of an extremely fulfilling and challenging chapter in my life. But anyone who knows me understands that my commitment to public service is ongoing.”

Dr. Miguel Cardona, Commissioner of Education: Commissioner Cardona and the State Board of Education oversee the Pre-K through grade 12 school districts across Connecticut. Governor Ned Lamont appointed Cardona in August 2019 with over two decades of experience as a public school educator.

Cardona attended Central Connecticut State University for undergrad and, at UConn, he earned both a master’s in bilingual/bi-cultural education, a doctorate in Education, and an Executive Leadership Program (superintendent) certificate.

Watch: Cardona explains what teachers, students can expect when schools reopen

Commissioner Cardona’s Connecticut roots are planted in Meriden, where he was raised, attended school, and later taught elementary school and served as principal for 10 years.

He was previously a member of the Board of Regents for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU).

Cardona’s first academic year as Education Commissioner has taken an unexpected turn due to the coronavirus. The pandemic has forced K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to close their doors for in-person classes, resulting in most school districts and establishments implementing some form of distance learning.

One big challenge Cardona faces, even without a pandemic, is the gaps in “opportunities, access and outcomes of students” from all walks of life. Cardona says the pandemic has resulted in “a new era in Educational Access and Advocacy.”

“Let us all stand committed to preserve, as much as possible for the generation that will inherit the decisions we make, the ideals of a free and appropriate public education. As we do this, let’s work together to put meaningful actions to the belief that no child should ever be left behind,” Commissioner Cardona said on May 4, 2020.

The State Dept. of Education and Governor Lamont’s Learn from Home Task Force has partnered with Dell and the Nooyi Family to provide 60,000 laptops and over 185,000 Scholastic books to help students across the state’s 33 Alliance Districts with distance learning.

Jeffrey Flaks, President and CEO, Hartford HealthCare: Jeffrey Flaks was named the President & Chief Executive Officer of Hartford Healthcare in June of 2019. Prior to his current position, Mr. Flaks served as president and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Hartford HealthCare and, earlier, as president and CEO of Hartford Hospital.

Flaks has led Hartford HealthCare as its workers fight to treat the heavy flow of COVID-19 patients amid the pandemic. Hartford HealthCare has worked closely with News 8 since the pandemic began to keep viewers informed not only about the progress of the virus, how to stay healthy or find treatment, and the conditions for healthcare workers, but also the safest next steps as the state reopens.

WATCH: Flaks talks possible second wave, use of remdesivir in CT

In addition to being at the forefront of expanded testing in the state, including mobile testing facilities to help serve critical locations, Hartford HealthCare has created programs to help the state prepare for reopening, including its “Return to Work” program designed to help employers and employees alike ready themselves for that time.

Scot X. Esdaile, NAACP State President: Scot X. Esdaile was elected NAACP State President in November of 2003 and has held the position since then.

Under Esdaile’s leadership, the Connecticut NAACP has led many initiatives in the state, including criminal justice reform and calls for diversity in elections.

WATCH: Esdaile talks about the impact the virus is having on communities of color

Most recently the NAACP has urged Governor Lamont to do more to help communities of color during the coronavirus pandemic. As part of that call to action, Esdaile told News 8 “We want measurable results in reference to dealing with this crisis in our community.” Just this past weekend, the NAACP began efforts to distribute face masks to members of the New Haven community.

In September 2016, Esdaile was also named the first African-American chairman of the Connecticut Boxing Commission.

Mayor Justin Elicker: Sworn in as the 51st Mayor of the City of New Haven on Jan. 1, 2020, Justin Elicker’s first term in office has been a crash course in crisis management. As he passed his first 100 days in office in mid-April, Elicker told News 8 “New Haven has made me proud to be the mayor at this time.”

After earning his B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont, Elicker returned to Connecticut and earned both an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a Masters in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry.

WATCH: Elicker says May 20 is a reopening suggestion, says people should use their judgment when getting back to work and being outside

Elicker worked for five years as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. State Department, being posted in Washington, D.C., Taiwan, and Hong Kong before returning to the Elm City to put down roots. Following that service, Elicker served for four years on the New Haven Board of Alders.

Much like his counterpart in Hartford, Elicker has pushed for expanded testing as a key part of the fight against coronavirus. On April 17, the state’s first rapid testing site was opened in New Haven, in conjunction with CVS Health. Elicker has also announced several initiatives to expand testing in communities seen as “hot spots,” including communities with high minority populations.

Elicker recently went as far as to get tested himself at the Long Wharf drive-up site in order to encourage New Haven residents to get tested as the city nears Phase One of the state’s reopening plan.

Mayor Erin Stewart: Now serving her fourth term, Erin Stewart was elected as the 40th Mayor of the City of New Britain in November of 2013. Being elected at the age of 26, Stewart is the youngest mayor in the city’s history, only the second woman to hold that office, and the only female mayor in New Britain to be elected to a second term.

WATCH: Stewart says Lamont needs to make a decision, “stick to it” and “see it through

Stewart has overseen a dramatic economic turnaround for the city of New Britain, including an unprecedented 3-notch upgrade in New Britain’s bond rating by Standard & Poor’s in January 2015, and ushered in a further bond upgrade in January 2016 to “A+.” Stewart has also invested significant resources in helping New Britain’s homeless population through the creation of the Building Hope Together Task Force: New Britain’s Workplan to End Homelessness. 

One initiative New Britain has undertaken under Stewart is expanding WiFi access to under-served areas of the city for school kids learning from home during the pandemic. And on Monday, New Britain became the first school district to receive a delivery of Dell laptops as part of a cooperative effort between the state and the Partnership for Connecticut.

The laptops are intended to advance equitable access to technology in Alliance Districts who serve significant populations of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and support distance learning during school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton: A Danbury native, Boughton is currently serving his tenth consecutive term in office, making him the longest-serving Mayor in Danbury’s history.

Since taking office, he has focused on strengthening Danbury’s schools, revitalizing downtown, enhancing infrastructure, improving quality-of-life issues, working closely with our seniors and expanding citizens’ access to government. 

WATCH: “We’re going to be okay:” Boughton says CT, nation will make it through this pandemic

On March 6, Danbury became one of the first Connecticut towns to be connected to coronavirus when a worker at Danbury hospital from Westchester County, NY, tested positive for the virus.

In mid-April, Boughton was part of a bi-partisan group of mayors from Fairfield County to voice support for Governor Lamont’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just don’t see the state falling down on this at all,” Boughton said during the governor’s regular briefing on COVID-19 on April 14. “I think there’ll be time for politics later on…there’s no value in sniping at each other.”

Marietta S. Lee – Executive VP, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary, The Lee Company: Marietta S. Lee is a leader of the Lee Company, founded by her grandfather, Leighton Lee II, over 70 years ago.

The Lee Company, headquartered in Westbrook, Connecticut, manufactures miniature hydraulic components for the aerospace, automotive, and medical industries. The Lee Company employs over 1,100 people in the state of Connecticut.

WATCH: Lee says she thinks Lamont’s decision to postpone reopening hair salons was “political”

Prior to joining the family business, Lee worked in television, with roles at Court-TV, CBS News and KTRK — the ABC affiliate in Houston, Texas.

Lee serves on the board of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) and is a is a Director of the Essex Savings Bank (serving on the Strategic Planning, Technology Oversight, and Trust Committees).

As Connecticut heads into Phase One of reopening the state, organizations like the CBIA will be crucial in helping to get the economy back on its feet following the pandemic.


Watch “COVID-19: The Virtual Town Hall” Part 1

Watch “COVID-19: The Virtual Town Hall” Part 2

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