Connecticut To Launch $150 Million Fund To Help Businesses

A new $150 million, multi-year initiative to invest in Connecticut businesses, with a major focus on fledgling small businesses located in communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, was unveiled on Thursday.

The Department of Economic and Community Development hopes the private sector will match that funding and co-invest in entrepreneurs, small businesses and start-ups, Commissioner David Lehman said.

“We think there’s a real opportunity to make this initiative even larger and have the state drive it, but with a significant amount of co-investment capital from corporations and philanthropists,” Lehman said.

The state's $150 million initiative, dubbed the Connecticut Fund, includes $75 million in state bonding and $75 million from the state's share of federal COVID relief funds. At least half of that money will be directed to businesses owned by minorities, women, individuals with disabilities and veterans. The Connecticut Fund will provide “flexible” financial help to businesses, including grants, low-cost debt, equity and funding for training and technical assistance, Lehman said.

Besides new small businesses, funding is also planned in larger amounts for “early-stage companies” with a focus on information technology and new product development.

In other coronavirus-related news:

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VACCINATIONS FOR CHILDREN

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for youngsters ages 12 to 15 in the coming days, the state of Connecticut is ordering extra vaccine and keeping its mass vaccination centers in place, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.

“We’re going to certainly prioritize our mass vaccination centers, knowing that these kids often need a parent to help drive them through the mass vaccination," Lamont said. Meanwhile, mobile vans will be prioritizing young people in communities without access to automobiles.

“We’ve been knocking on doors. as you know,” Lamont said. “I think we have a good idea where a lot of these kids are and we're going to get the vaccine to them.”

As of Thursday, more than 1.4 million people in Connecticut have been fully vaccinated. Lamont said he expects 70% of adults will have had their first dose as of Friday, well ahead of President Joe Biden's goal of July 4. Connecticut continues to experience new cases, with more than 700 confirmed or probable ones since Wednesday.

The number of COVID-associated deaths grew by seven to a total of 8,131. Lamont said “99-plus percent” of those new deaths were people who were not vaccinated. Meanwhile, Lamont said this was the first week in over a year there were no COVID deaths in any nursing homes, where most of the residents have been vaccinated.

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CONTINUED TELEHEALTH SERVICES

Legislation that temporarily extends for two more years telehealth services in Connecticut, which were expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic so patients could safely meet with their physicians, awaits Gov. Ned Lamont's signature.

Under the bill, which passed unanimously the state Senate early Thursday morning, provisions such as required insurance coverage for virtual medical appointments, would continue until June 30, 2023.

“The pandemic has changed the delivery of healthcare in a meaningful way and Connecticut residents have come to rely on telehealth over the past year,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Insurance and Real Estate Committee.

The Democratic governor is expected to sign the legislation into law. In March 2020, he issued an executive order that expanded access to telehealth services for people with both private and public health insurance plans. That order was later extended.

Among other things, the bill allows certain providers to conduct virtual visits using audio-only telephone and allows licensed medical providers in other states to provide telehealth services in Connecticut.

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VACCINE PARTNERSHIP

The Connecticut Department of Public Health said it is partnering with the Connecticut chapters of nine historically Black fraternities and sororities to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine and combat vaccine hesitancy in minority communities.

The department will provide training for a series of free town hall events that will include discussions with well-known doctors, clinicians, and public servants who are members of each of the nine sororities and fraternizes and serve as trusted messengers on the vaccines, the department said.

The fraternities and sororities partnering with the state include: Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta.

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FOXWOODS PROTOCOLS

Foxwoods Resort Casino has announced that it will be lifting most of its COVID-19 protocols this month.

The casino, which has had only a portion of its slot machines running to facilitate social distancing, said it will be turning on all of those machines and slowly ending capacity restrictions on table games, restaurants, theaters, events, retail shops and other amenities.

“With the exception of face masks, all protocols will be lifted by or before May 19, aligning with Connecticut’s plans,“ Jason Guyot, the casino’s president and chief executive officer, said. “We will closely monitor our approach but are ready to introduce a safe and more relaxed ‘next normal’ environment for our guests and team members ahead of summer.”

Foxwoods officials said about 70% of its employees have been vaccinated.