Connecticut bans utility shutoffs amid coronavirus concerns

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials banned utilities Friday from shutting off services to customers and warned of heavy demand for absentee ballots in the state’s upcoming presidential primary as hospitals braced for more patients with the coronavirus.

The utilities order applies to all electric, natural gas and water companies in the state. The Public Utility Regulatory Authority said it will be in effect during the public health and civil preparedness emergencies declared by Gov. Ned Lamont.

“People need electricity, heat and water to stay home safely right now,” State Attorney General William Tong said.

Health officials in Westport reported Connecticut’s seventh positive test for the virus Friday. More than 100 people have been tested in the state.

The Westport Weston Health District said the person who tested positive is the town’s first case. Westport officials have been tracking an apparent mass exposure to the virus at a recent party, Hearst Connecticut Media reported. Officials have not released more details about the Westport case.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

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CONNECTICUT PRIMARY

Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is warning cities and towns they should expect heavy demand for presidential primary absentee ballots, given the virus.

Her spokesman, Gabe Rosenberg, said Friday that the office is currently “reviewing the law to see what further guidance” about absentee ballots it can provide municipal election officials this week.

Registered Democrats and Republicans in Connecticut are scheduled to go to the polls on April 28. Absentee ballots will not be available until April 7 and cannot be ordered by the cities and towns until March 24, under a state law that determines when Merrill can set the ballot order.

Rosenberg said Merrill’s office is setting up a working group of registrars and town clerks to make sure state and local election officials are on the same page when it comes to planning for the primary.

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SENATORS CALL FOR ACTION

U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, called Friday on Congress to approve additional aid to help families weather the outbreak, such as paid sick leave and increased unemployment benefits.

Speaking at a health center in Hartford, the two Democrats said the aid needs to be approved immediately and criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for sending the Senate home for the weekend.

“We should be in Congress right now passing an emergency bill to make sure that the families HERE in Hartford, who are going to have tot take time off work … don’t face economic ruin,” Murphy said. “For many families HERE in Hartford and all across the state, if you miss one paycheck you are on the brink of financial ruin.”

The senators also called on president trump to declare a national emergency, which they said would help expand and speed up testing for COVID-19.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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