Geballe Says CT Businesses Will Have To Wait Until Mid-May, At Least, To Reopen
Hartford Business Journal, April 16, 2020
By Michael Bingham
Wth the state under an executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont that all “non-essential” businesses remain closed until mid-May, Lamont’s chief operating officer Josh Geballe took to the Zoomosphere Wednesday to defend his boss’ decision to a business audience desperate to take the first baby steps on the long road back from the economic shutdown.
Geballe was the guest speaker on a webinar hosted by the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce titled “Inside the State’s Virus Response” moderated by chamber President Garrett Sheehan.
In February former IBM executive Geballe, 45, was named the state’s chief operating officer. The position’s responsibilities are in addition to his duties as commissioner of the state’s Department of Administrative Services.
Geballe acknowledged that this is a “brutal time” for owners of Connecticut businesses large and small “having to deal with a shutdown situation, and I know most of you are feeling that head-on right now.” On Monday Lamont announced the formation of a “Reopening Connecticut Advisory Group” co-chaired by former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and Albert Ko, MD, a professor of epidemiology and department chair at the Yale School of Public Health. The group was charged with consulting and advising the administration on when and how to reopen the state’s comatose economy. Pressed with questions about how soon that process might begin in earnest, Geballe was not encouraging.
“Everybody wants to get back to work as fast as we possibly can,” he acknowledged, “There’s no debate about that. What we’re trying to figure out is: What are the conditions we need to have in place to do that safely?”
One of those conditions: “No one thinks we’re going to have a [COVID] vaccine in place for at least a year, best case,” Geballe said. “So between now and then, it’s going to be very tricky. We need to be confident before we begin to loosen [business restrictions] back up that we’re not going to be immediately back in the same position we are now,” with regard to the rate of the contagion’s spread.
Asked if mid-May was a one-size-fits-all reopening date for all businesses, or whether some industries or geographic regions of the state might have restrictions eased sooner than that, Gabelle said, “We don’t have answers on that right now. Obviously it would be desirable, to the extent that it is possible, to loosen up sooner in areas where the risk is lower.” However, he added, “We’re a small state. Things are very interconnected. The governor is very concerned about cross-border impacts” and therefore inclined to march in lockstep with neighboring states such as New York, which emerged as the national epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has said his state might not reopen for business until July.
Outside of Fairfield County back to top
Outside of Fairfield County, which as part of the New York City metro area has been hardest hit by the coronavirus, Connecticut has gotten off much lighter than its metro neighbors of New York and New Jersey. As of April 14 Connecticut had recorded 671 COVID-related deaths statewide since the outbreak in early March, compared to 10,834 in New York State and 2,805 in New Jersey.
Asked by Sheehan whether the administration had established benchmarks for conditions for restarting the Connecticut economy, or at least to begin easing restrictions on businesses, Geballe brushed off the question.
“Yeah, we’re looking at a lot of them,” he said. “I don’t want to get ahead of the advisory group’s work. We’ll be talking about that more in the next couple of days. There’s a lot of consensus-building about the right types of metrics we need to be tracking and the right types of measures we need to have in place to be ready to start to open back up.”
Geballe praised the resourcefulness of the state’s manufacturing sector in launching new product lines on the fly to make much-needed medical equipment and personal protective equipment. Locally companies like Shelton’s Modern Plastics and Sorrento Fine Woodwork in Wallingford have rapidly ramped up assembly lines for face shields, while Guilford’s Bio-Med Devices tooled up last month to manufacture much-needed ventilators for hospitals. But for much of the rest of the state’s business community, a return to prosperity can’t come soon enough. When might the administration make concrete decisions about reopening Connecticut for business?
“I think that’s going to be further down the road,” Geballe said. “We haven’t even peaked the crest of hospitalizations and the infection rate.”
“So it’s unfortunately still going to be a ways off,” he added. “The governor extended the reopen date to at least May 20. But even that is only an estimate at this point. We’ll have to see as we get closer whether we see the infections and the hospitalizations start to decline to a point where it is safe to start to pull some of those levers.”