MERIDEN — U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy visited the drive-through COVID-19 testing station at MidState Medical Center Friday to thank workers and get feedback on a new $3 trillion stimulus package before Congress.
“I am proud to tell Connecticut’s story,” Murphy told hospital workers and city officials. “It was pretty impressive because of all the work you have done. But as people start traveling again, we have to be prepared with surge capacity.”
Murphy, D-Connecticut, was responding to the steady decrease in hospitalizations and infections in Connecticut which led Gov. Ned Lamont to start Phase II of the state’s reopening a few days early.
Hartford HealthCare, the parent company of MidState Medical Center, opened the drive-through testing station in late March. Initially it was only open to those with a Hartford HealthCare provider’s order. But as testing supplies increased, the restrictions loosened and now anyone, with or without an appointment or insurance, can receive a test.
MidState staff talked about the challenges COVID-19 presents to health care workers.
“I’ve never seen an infection that presented in so many different ways,” said Dr. Virginia Bieluch, infectious disease specialist with Hartford HealthCare. “Things are considerably quieter now.”
The testing was critical for identifying potential carriers who showed no symptoms as well as those who care for the sick and elderly. Nursing staff said the site now handles between 170 and 200 tests a day but can accommodate double that amount.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati and city Director of Health and Human Services Lea Crown shared their experience working with the hospital. At one point there were 30 to 35 new cases a day. The number of new cases is now in the single digits or even zero.
Scarpati and City Manager Tim Coon talked about the city’s efforts to provide police at the testing site and the health department’s close work with MidState on tracking the number of infected patients. The health department also helped with the Phase I and Phase II business reopenings, providing inspections, protective equipment and other assistance.
Murphy wants to see the $3 trillion Heroes Act passed by the House of Representatives come before the Senate before its July recess. The House, which has a Democrat majority, passed the Heroes Act on May 15. The bill seeks a wide range of benefits for households, renters and people who live in the U.S. and are not citizens, according to a fact sheet from the House Appropriations Committee.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already dismissed the bill, as has the White House, saying the House package is "more concerned with delivering on longstanding partisan and ideological wish lists," according to media reports.
Congress passed the CARES stimulus relief package at the start of the pandemic.
“We’re thankful for the initial $175 billion CARES relief package funds — but it doesn’t nearly meet the financial losses we have experienced during this pandemic,” stated Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare. “While the House has passed another $100 billion relief package for hospitals and providers, the senate has yet to do that.”
Kumar said healthcare providers need the Senate to commit to a relief package.
Scarpati asked what the city could do to improve the chances the Senate will take up the measure, which includes aid to businesses and municipalities. Murphy advised Scarpati to get an accounting of what the schools will need to reopen.
“How expensive is it to reopen academic facilities,” Murphy replied.
In addition to letting the public know the drive-through testing is available to walk-ins, MidState Medical Center and Hartford HealthCare said the hospital is open for elected surgeries and other medical treatments.
“We want the public to know it is safe to come to the hospital,” Bieluch said.