Amid concerns about the challenges of social distancing and self-isolation for New Haven’s homeless population, the city has rented 24 hotel rooms to decompress homeless shelters and will soon open a self-isolation facility for those who test positive but do not require hospitalization.

The facility will be located at Hill Regional Career High School and will have a maximum capacity of 75 beds. While 40 beds will be set up within the next 24 hours, the site is not set to open immediately, as the city is still coordinating personnel and infrastructure. These updates are the latest in a series of escalating measures at the city and state level to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In his daily COVID-19 press conference on Monday, Mayor Justin Elicker said that protocol for seniors and homeless individuals — two high-risk groups in the global coronavirus pandemic — is his top priority.

Port-a-potties are scheduled to arrive to the New Haven Green in the coming days to accommodate homeless individuals who previously relied on bathrooms in food distribution sites that have now transitioned to grab-and-go service. The city closed all senior centers indefinitely on Friday and is now reaching out to seniors who relied on these centers for food to determine their needs. As of Wednesday morning, city officials have called 85 nursing homes, senior centers and senior housing sites to assess COVID-19 preparedness.

New Haven now has four confirmed COVID-19 cases, and the number in Connecticut has grown to 96 as of Wednesday afternoon. The Elm City is currently awaiting results from a presumed fifth case at the Roger Sherman Halfway House, according to a Connecticut Department of Correction press release. One individual is currently hospitalized, and several others in the group home are self-isolating.

“We’ve been going full speed ahead for maybe six days now and it’s so important that we work together,” Elicker said at a Wednesday press conference on the steps of City Hall. “We’re gonna make mistakes along the way; we’re not gonna be able to address every issue immediately. But it’s so important that we listen to each other [and] that we respect one another.” 

Elicker’s tone about COVID-19 has shifted in the past several days as the city has experienced noncompliance with social distancing recommendations.

Police and fire officers are now patrolling to enforce Elicker’s half-occupancy order for New Haven businesses and Gov. Ned Lamont’s Monday order to close all restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms in the state. Fire Chief John Alston said on Tuesday that most Elm City establishments are voluntarily complying and that enforcement departments have dispatched a minimal team of one supervisor and two inspectors to ensure full compliance.

Elicker’s half-occupancy order does not apply to faith organizations, several of which have continued with in-person gatherings that draw crowds of over 100 despite the administration’s push for online services. On Tuesday, Health Director Maritza Bond said that she has been in conversation with Spanish-speaking faith communities — via a webinar with 75 religious leaders and on Spanish Christian radio — to emphasize the importance of social distancing.

Chief Alston said on Wednesday that law enforcement is concentrating on compliance from NGOs and faith organizations that are still holding events. Elicker said on Tuesday and reiterated on Wednesday that the city is exploring — but is not committed to — a shelter-in-place order similar to those issued in ten California counties.

New Haven is now several days into new programs addressing the pandemic — namely, a drive-through testing facility through Yale New Haven Hospital and a neighborhood food distribution program for families that rely on school-provided meals.

YNHH replicated the COVID-19 test late last week and tested 50 patients on Monday at its drive-through facility, located at 150 Sargent Drive. That number increased to 100 patients on Tuesday, and the hospital hopes to reach 200 tests per day going forward. The city has not yet received the results of the Monday or Tuesday tests.

Right now, YNHH COVID-19 testing requires an appointment, doctor’s prescription and access to transportation. Elicker said on Wednesday that the city is exploring options for those without medical coverage as well as those without access to a car. While public transportation is still operative, the city is discouraging ridership in accordance with social distancing recommendations. Whether public transportation continues going forward is a question for the state, Elicker said.

New Haven public schools closed indefinitely on Friday, and the city has since established 37 food pickup sites for families that rely on school-provided meals. Tomorrow, Nathan Hale School — which closed Thursday after a parent who had been on campus was suspected to have come in contact with COVID-19 — will be added to the list. Seven hundred and sixty-three families utilized the neighborhood program on Monday, and 1,075 families picked up food on Tuesday.

Remote learning is new to New Haven, and teachers have prepared two weeks’ worth of physical course materials that will last students through next Friday. At Wednesday’s press conference, interim New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Ilene Tracey said that accessibility to online learning is among her primary concerns, as many students do not have laptops or internet available at home. She asked that New Haven community agencies with spare technological resources donate items to the main district office, located at 54 Meadow St.

The Elm City’s small business community is facing particularly challenging times in the weeks ahead as the city grinds to a halt. Many New Haven restaurants have transitioned to takeout and delivery services, but others — such as Atticus Bookstore Cafe, which issued a Sunday plea for customers to purchase gift cards — are closing shop altogether.

On Wednesday, Elicker repeated his earlier advice for supporting New Haven’s small businesses: Buy local, including gift cards, takeout and delivery. The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce is hosting a webinar series for small business owners as they navigate reduced commercial activity. New Haven Deputy Economic Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli noted that forthcoming state and federal packages should relieve some of the stress small businesses are facing during the economic downturn.

Lamont announced on Monday that small businesses in Connecticut are now eligible for up to $2 million in disaster relief loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a second emergency funding package which guarantees free COVID-19 testing, relaxes work requirements for those on unemployment insurance and guarantees paid sick leave for employees of small businesses.

New Haven has launched a COVID-19 website to keep residents informed. Elicker and select members of his administration will hold daily press briefings to discuss important updates.

Mackenzie is the editor in chief and president of the Managing Board of 2022. She previously covered City Hall for the News, including the 2019 mayoral race and New Haven's early pandemic response. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a junior in Trumbull College studying ethics, politics and economics.