April 03, 2020

Ned Lamont

CT Gov. Ned Lamont discusses his efforts to fight COVID-19 in one of the most-infected states per capita in the country. He discusses the race to find more ventilators and personal protective equipment as the state’s case count rises. Lamont also gives advice to states that have not been hit as hard yet about how to flatten the curve.

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He’s the governor of one of America’s hardest hit states, this week on ‘Firing Line.’

I can’t tell you how urgent this is as we head into April, which will be a horrible month.

You may not have realized it, but New York’s neighbor Connecticut has one of the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the country.
For Governor Ned Lamont, the message is clear.

Southern Connecticut has the same infection rate as most of New York City right now.

With medical supplies stretched thin…
I’m asking first-line responders to go to war without all the protective gear they deserve.

…and states competing with one another to marshal resources…
It’s more like surge pricing on Uber.

What does Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont say now?

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Governor Ned Lamont, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Margaret, nice to see you.

You are the governor of the state of Connecticut, a state that, as you pointed out this week, is the fourth-most COVID-infected state per capita in the country.
You have more than 3,000 cases of COVID in your state, and that number is increasing rapidly each day.
Now, you, along with all of your fellow governors, are working around the clock to protect the citizens of your state, and so, Governor, I wonder, can you tell me, where do you think you are in the curve right now?

Running like hell and the virus is catching up every day.
What the federal government doesn’t realize is they think about this in terms of states and New York has all the fatalities, infections.
They target all the equipment and PPE there.
And we keep trying to say, think about Connecticut as part of that New York pandemic.
And if you do that, then you’ll see that we have the fourth highest infection rate in the country right behind New York and New Jersey.
And Andrew can’t put out the fire in New York unless I put it out in southern Connecticut and vice versa.

When will the incidences of COVID peak in your state, Governor?

April is going to be a horrible month.
And I’d like to think that the we slowly get on the back side of this by the end of this month.
We don’t know.
We look at Seattle, we look at Hong Kong, we look at China.
We know where we are on those curves.
I think we’ve got another month or two to go.

Governor, when the virus started spreading throughout the state of Connecticut, early on, there was a far higher density of cases in the southern part of the state than there was in the northern part of the state.
But you have said that you could watch it move throughout the state and that this week you started to see the numbers ticking up in the central part of the state moving upward.
Do you think as a governor, you did enough early on to stop the spread within Connecticut?

Yeah, we acted very early.
I remember we said no to the St. Patrick’s Day parades.
You know, we said no to high school championship sports.
And there were, you know, 50,000 petitioners saying, how can you say no to the high school championships?
And kids protesting outside of the athletic center.
I think we did the right thing early on, but look, we’re a relatively small state right next to New York.
It was New Rochelle, New York, which is probably the first hot zone there, and Andrew Cuomo quarantined off, and he did that pretty early, but by then it had leaked out.
It leaked north into Connecticut and south into New York City.
As you point out, it’s gone through Fairfield County now up into New Haven County and beyond.

I’d like you to take a look at something, Governor, that President Trump said, and I’d like to get your reaction to it when he was speaking about governors across the country.
Let’s take a look.

I think they should be appreciative because you know what?
When they’re not appreciative to me, they’re not appreciative to the Army Corps.
They’re not appreciative to FEMA.
It’s not right.
I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington.
You’re wasting your time with him.
Don’t call the woman in Michigan.
It doesn’t make any difference what happens.
You know what I say?
If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.

As a governor.
Governor Lamont, do you feel that how much assistance you get from the federal government depends at all on how ‘appreciative’ you are to President Trump personally?

I don’t think so.
Look, Andrew Cuomo has not necessarily been that deferential to the President.
He’s got a heck of a lot of aid.
Frankly, he’s gotten 4,000 ventilators.
I’ve gotten 50.
But, you know, you’ve got to watch out for the politics.
Most importantly, FEMA’s been great.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been great.
We’ve had pretty good communication.
The biggest problem out of Washington to me is A, they got going slowly on this.
And B, there’s been a lot of mixed messaging about how seriously they’re taking it.

So I’d like to take a step back and ask you, as a governor who’s trying to marshal all the resources you can for your state, how do you think about the proper role of the federal government versus the role and responsibility you have as a governor for your state?
And how should the tasks and the responsibilities be evenly or fairly or justly divided?

I will do everything that I can control.
I can expand capacity of my hospitals.
I can set up a field hospital like we did today down in Southern.
I can get new beds in there with help from FEMA.
I can recruit retired nurses back into the game.
So we have thousands of extra people ready to go.
What I can’t do is make ventilators, and I can’t buy ventilators around the world and around the country.
And it’s just a hodgepodge right now.
It’s like surge pricing on Uber.
You think you’ve got the ventilators.
You think they’re coming into JFK Airport and bingo, somebody outbids you at the last moment and the plane takes off again.
It is nuts the way we’re doing that.
There you need the federal government taking the lead.

Two of your fellow governors, Republican governor of Maryland Larry Hogan, Democratic governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer, opined in just this week.
This is a quote.
‘The Trump administration can start by more widely implementing the Defense Production Act to direct companies to produce ventilators and protective gear for medical workers.’
Do you agree with that?

Imagine if we could order General Motors two months ago, three months ago to start making ventilators.
Think of the thousands of lives that could be saved.
Every ventilator saves two or three lives at a minimum, and we’re desperately short.
I put it in an order months ago for 1,500 ventilators.
We’ve gotten 50 so far.

One thing that’s unique about you, Governor, is that you actually have a company that makes ventilators in your state.
Could you have insisted that they start making more ventilators sooner?

I think I could have.
When we found out about them, we went right down there.
We said, ‘What do you do?
What do we need to do to help you get from 50 ventilators a week to 500 ventilators a week?’
And they said, ‘This is what’ we need in terms of people.
We said, ‘Great, we can get you the people.’
This is what we need in terms of parts.
We could source some of those parts.
Some of the parts come from China.
So we got to work on that.
They’re going to ramp up.
We got them together with a really strong partner.
But that’s still a month away.

Ventilators, of course, are important because it can be the critical lifesaving function for patients with COVID who are in acute intensive care.
And I want to ask you what your projections are for your state about how many ventilators you think that you are going to need at your peak.

We’ve got about a thousand.
We need another 1,500.
So we’re not even close to what we need.

And how do you get to that 1,500 number?
Because there is a University of Washington study that has projected how many ventilators each state will need at its peak.
And it has Connecticut closer to 500.
How do you think that you’re going to need 1,500?

Well, first of all, we have twice as many as 500 right now.
We’re already at capacity down in Fairfield County, and that’s only one-third of the state.
We have a long way to go.
Not only have we followed Dr. Fauci’s models in terms of what this looks like — look at Seattle and look at New York — But just as importantly, we’re really tracking right now.
What’s interesting is we have more of our hospitalized patients needing ventilators than we had anticipated.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is China, they had to stay on ventilators much longer than we have to.
We’ve got them on the ventilator for, say, 13 days.
In China, they were on the ventilator for a month.
So we’re adjusting our needs every day.
We got to make a strong case to FEMA why we got to be a priority.
Right now, we’re very close to having people not have access to the ventilators they need.

What if you don’t get those 1,500 ventilators?
Because you said you put in that order and you didn’t get it.
The story is that they were on the tarmac in JFK and then were rerouted to somewhere else.
What happened, Governor?

I think that there are other hot spots, New Orleans and New York City.
and Jersey City.
And maybe, you know, FEMA had to make a determination, a little triage, what they had to do.
What really breaks my heart is also the protective gear.
I am sending nurses and docs in the nursing homes and hospitals, cops, corrections officers, all of whom are terrified.
They’re going in on the frontlines every day.
And I can’t get them a mask.
I’ll never forgive myself for that.

I want to stay on ventilators real quick and then go to the PPE.
Do you think it is appropriate that the federal government is taking stock of how many ventilators there are and directing them to the place that they view as the more important or more urgent hot spot?

Look, they have to set priorities.
I don’t knock that.
But what I don’t appreciate is they do it by state and they say, look, there’s a lot more infections in New York than there is in Connecticut.
What they got to realize is New York and Connecticut germs in that hot spot are one and the same.
And, you know, I’m cheering on Andrew Cuomo to get as many ventilators as he needs and to get as much protective equipment as he needs.
That helps him put out the fire there.
And he’s cheering me on in southern Connecticut.

Have you made contingency plans, Governor, for what will happen or what you will do if you do run short on ventilators?
There are some contingency suggestions that anesthesia machines can be converted to ventilators and there are other, more dangerous options like splitting ventilators, which is not recommended by many.

We’re definitely looking at splitting of the ventilators.
Like you said, we’ve got a ventilator manufacturer here.
There are ways that we are trying to explore that.
But basically I’m working my heart out every day.
I’m doing shows like this, looking at the camera, hoping somebody from the White House sees me say, ‘Get us the ventilators.
You will be saving lives.’

I want to talk to you about PPE.
This acronym that everybody in America knows now and only two weeks ago had no idea stood for personal protective equipment.
And you have just said that you are scouring the globe trying to find places to get PPE for your medical professionals, healthcare professionals and critical state employees that you’re sending out into the battle lines.
Do you find yourself fighting with other governors or trying to battle it out with other governors in order to get PPE for your state?

No, I don’t think it’s that way.
We’re working together on this as best we can.
But you’re right.
It’s a little like that surge pricing.
And you see the price going up.
So it’s not direct, but it’s indirect competition.

And is the federal government helping in that pricing predicament and that bidding predicament?

They’re getting in the way.

How are they doing that?

They’re the ones making the last bid.
Sometimes when that order is redirected, probably it’s been redirected to somebody that the federal government is shipping it off to.
You know, I wish they would take the lead, buy this stuff, bring down the price, and get it allocated based on need.
That would be invaluable.

What would it take for that to happen?

The will.
They just need the will to do it.
I mean, they’ve got obviously the authority to do that.
They obviously have the firepower to do that.
They got the money and the clout to do it.
They just need the will to make that happen.

I’ve got to ask you about another approach than another state is taking.
The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has discussed using the resources of the billionaires in his state to help obtain the resources needed for the fight.
I’d like you to listen to what he said last week.
Let’s take a look.

Where are you sourcing 101 million — And how are you getting them here?
Because everybody’s having supply chain problems.

We got Richard Branson taking a 747 from Hong Kong coming into the Bay Area.
We’ve got Elon Musk that was able to get 1,200 ventilators for us in 72 hours from overseas.
I’ve already distributed 31.7 million N95 masks just in the state.

Governor, what do you think about this strategy of leveraging the philanthropic and goodwill of well-resourced billionaires in your state?

Why not?
I’m going to leverage everything I can to get the frontline folks what they need, and our philanthropic community has been amazing.
They contributed 60,000 laptops so high school kids can continue their learning online.
We’ve raised $10 million in less than a week to go to our major not-for-profits.
So we can get money to where it needs to go now until the federal government picks up.

Connecticut has something like, you know, more than a dozen or so billionaires.
Have you reached out to any of them for their help?


Let me show you something that President Trump said just this last week about the supply of medical equipment.

We’re also sending things that we don’t need to other parts.
I just spoke to the prime minister of Italy.
And we have additional capacity.
We have additional product that we don’t need.
We’re going to be sending approximately $100 million worth of things, of surgical and medical and hospital things to Italy.

Governor, with your own state struggling and scrambling to get the resources you need to your own healthcare workers, what do you make of the President saying that we have an excess supply of these products and that we’re going to ship them abroad?

I urge him to send those hospital things to Connecticut.
Look, maybe he’s aspirational.
But let’s face it.
I was on the phone today with 50 other governors, and everybody is making the same complaint because they know that if they don’t have the same infection rate as me and New York do right now, they probably will in the next three weeks.
And they’re just trying to plan ahead.
So every governor is working their heart out on this.
Look, I got to say, the White House has been much more responsive of late than they were early on.
So I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Let me ask you about masks, Governor.
Americans have received, if we’re honest about it, pretty mixed messages about whether masks are useful for us.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has recently said that he’s starting to re-examine the possibility of whether masks might actually be helpful in terms of stopping the spread of the disease.
Was it, in your opinion, simply that there was a supply issue about the masks that led to confusing guidance for people because we wanted to let healthcare workers use the masks rather than real healthcare advice and public safety advice that masks will stop the spread of the disease?

Masks will stop the spread of the disease.
There’s no question about it.
N95 masks will also tend to protect you, which is why they ought to be prioritized for the healthcare workers.
Look, we all looked a little askance when we saw the pictures of the Asian factories five months ago and everybody walking around with a mask.
We thought they’re a little paranoid.
And I think today I think there’s something really sensible about that.
I’m keeping our major manufacturing plants open right now, and I’m desperately trying to get masks for those people just so they can keep going because they’re in defense, which is a critical industry.
So they got to keep going.

You’ve also ordered nonessential businesses to shut in Connecticut and you’re considering narrowing the businesses that are allowed to be open.
I think there are many people in the state of Connecticut who will be grateful that you think liquor stores are an essential service.
How do you go about deciding that what is an essential service and what are essential stores to remain open?

I thought mainly in terms of how I can make sure that people are not congregating and aggregating because that was what was particularly dangerous.
So, you know, bars, you know, right before we closed down the bars and restaurants, they were packed.
It was the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day.
And that was dangerous and that was a contagion ready to happen.
So I think that was the right thing to do.
As I described in some of the retail, we’re keeping it going to degree to which people don’t have to go in the store, and socially interact.

So, for example, gun stores you have kept open, but they are by appointment only.

That’s right.
Look, I’m the biggest gun safety person, you know, but I wanted not to get into the politics of that right now.
I want to do everything based on public safety.
But there were people ganging into the gun stores because they thought, ‘Hey, somebody is going to shut these things down.’
So we closed them down except for by appointment.
And that’s taking care of the public health risk.

I know, Governor, that you were a small business owner yourself before you went into politics.
What is your view of how much the federal government’s $2 trillion CARES package went towards assisting the small businesses in Connecticut who are really taking the brunt of this crisis?

They started off on the wrong track.
They’re going to give people the income tax credit or payroll tax cut.
These small businesses, you know, in part, thanks to laws I’ve imposed, their revenues have absolutely disappeared.
They can’t pay to keep the doors open.
So we really lobbied to Senator Murphy and Senator Blumenthal here in Connecticut to make it a grant or at least a forgivable loan.
If you keep their people employed, then we’ll forgive the loan at the end of the fourth month.
That’s gonna, I hope, allow our small businesses to keep going.
You got to remember, this is not your garden variety recession where it’s gonna take a long time to climb out of this thing.
The economy was pretty strong in this state until we had this medical-related shutdown, and the economy I think is going to come back pretty strong once we get the COVID crisis behind us.
That could take a while, but that’s why it was so important for me to keep the small business intact, keep those people employed so we get some wind in the sails.
They’ll be ready to get going again.

Governor, last weekend, the President suggested that he might quarantine the tri-state area — New Jersey, Connecticut and New York.
And there was a scramble, it seemed, to try to convince him or persuade him that this wasn’t a good idea.
You’ve tweeted about other options and what you would say to him when you finally got on the phone with him, which did happen later that night.
You reportedly spoke to the Chief of Staff, the Vice President, and the President.
What was it like talking to the President about this?

First of all, Governor Cuomo, Governor Murphy and myself, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the three amigos, we had no idea what a mandatory quarantine of the New York metropolitan area meant.
We knew it was absolutely unenforceable.
But what I really worried about is that ambiguity, that confusion not being clear.
Confusion could lead to panic, lack of clarity to confusion to panic.
That’s what I didn’t want to have happen.
So we did.
We talked to the President’s Chief of Staff, eventually got to talk to the President.
I think he came to the right decision.
He said, ‘We’re going to have a travel advisory.’
We all agreed that’s good.
If you leave the state, you’ve got to self-quarantine.
I think we reached the right decision and headed off what could have been a real panic if things had gone on for another 24 hours of indecision.

How did you find the President in terms of his engagement with you?

I thought he was — Look, I was pretty impressed.
He called me.
I was pretty impressed.
He asked me for my point of view.
I was happy that he took the input from the governors and made a good decision at the end of the day.
I appreciated all that.

You know, I have a few questions about the future, but I want to ask you a political question, because when you first came to national prominence in politics, you came as the progressive challenger to the moderate incumbent Democrat Joe Lieberman, as a senatorial challenger to him.
And I wonder about how you see Bernie Sanders’ role in the campaign right now, because just this week, Senator Sanders indicated that there was still a narrow path for him to reach the nomination.
And somebody like yourself, who has been at the core of that question about the soul of the Democratic Party, what do you think is best for the Democratic Party right now?

Well, I’ll challenge the pretext of your question a little bit.
There was nothing moderate about the invasion of Iraq.
That was an extreme foreign policy that I don’t think a Republican or Democratic establishment over the previous 50 years or the subsequent 25 years ever would have done.
It was a just a tragic strategic disaster.
That’s a primary reason why I got into that battle for the Senate back then.
Look, Bernie Sanders, he’s thinking big.
He’s got some big ideas out there.
A lot of them make pretty good sense.
I’m now a governor.
I like people who can get things done.
And I think Joe Biden gives us a much better chance to actually get things done.

Should Senator Sanders get out of the race?

That’s his call.
But I think it’s time to turn the page.

So that’s a yes?

That’s a long way of saying yes.

There are other small states, Governor, like Oregon and Maine and New Hampshire who are expected to peak later than Connecticut, and they’re looking at the advice that you can offer them.
What kind of experience and what kind of advice can you extend to those states across the country who are looking at New York and the tri-state area and Connecticut and trying to prepare themselves?

I would never think badly that I had overreacted.
But I would never forgive myself if I had underreacted.
And I always could have done more.
But I think we got early.
And if you’re Maine and New Hampshire, you have even more perspective.
You don’t have to be a psychic to see what’s going to happen there.
And I would urge you, even though people are looking around and throwing a Frisbee and think everything is fine, be strict earlier.
The social distancing makes an enormous difference.
The difference between New York City and Seattle is dramatic.
The difference between Italy and China is dramatic.
And that’s in part by the decision the political leaders made and the people they were representing following their lead.

Look, you haven’t even hit the worst of this moment yet, but are you already thinking about what you can do as a governor to prepare your state in the case of an even worse pandemic, an even more deadly virus than the coronavirus?

No, because I know I’m doing everything I can, running as fast as we can, expanding capacity as fast as we can, knocking on the door of the White House every day for PPE.
And I’ve got an amazing healthcare team and the hospitals are working in lockstep and the volunteers are coming forward.
I’m beginning to think a little bit about the day after.
I’m thinking a little bit about those small businesses getting on their feet.
I’m thinking a lot about the kids and making sure that this four months was not a total waste for them.
But I gave them a new way to learn and teachers a new way to teach so they’re able to get back in the game faster, too.
I’ve got to give people a sense of hope that we’re going to be on the back side of this and there’s a new day.
That’s America.
We’ve always done that, but it’s gonna be tough getting there.

I want to end with an image of the first coronavirus patient in Connecticut who has returned home.
He is a 45-year-old man, Chris Tillett, and the father of young twins.
He spent 10 days in a medically induced coma and is now home.
Have you had a chance to talk to him, Governor?

I have not talked to him yet.
I was going to give him a little bit of peace, but what it reminds you of, Margaret, is our amazing healthcare community.
We give them the tools, we give them what they need.
We can save lives.
Look at this person.
Here he was in a medically induced coma and there he is with his kids.
And I feel that responsibility every day.
That’s why I’m so passionate.
That’s why I’m pushing the White House so hard.
And that’s why I’m telling the healthcare community, all the residents of Connecticut, you know, stick with us.
If we follow the rules, we take the social distancing seriously, stick to the rules, stick together, we’re gonna get through this together.

Governor Lamont, we can tell you’re fired up and you’re working hard on behalf of your state.
Thank you so much for taking time to visit with us today to answer these questions, for being on the ‘Firing Line.’
Go get ’em.

Thanks for getting the good information out there too, Margaret.
It’s really helpful.
Appreciate it.

Thanks so much, Governor.

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