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CT Gov. Lamont: Federal gov. doing much better on vaccine than early handling of pandemic

Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland, Julie Hyman, and Brian Sozzi speak with Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont about the COVID-19 crisis and stimulus stalemate.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: First, we do want to get to what the states continue to grapple with in terms of, in many cases, rising coronavirus rates. Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut is joining us now, and in Connecticut, you all still have a positive case rate hovering around 6%, Governor. Unlike some neighboring states, New York being among them-- New York City chiefly-- you haven't closed outdoor-- indoor dining, excuse me, there in Connecticut. What's behind that decision, and what would cause you to change your mind?

NED LAMONT: Hey, good morning, Julie. Good morning, everybody.

You're right. Right now, our positivity rate is 6%, 7%, much lower than the country at large but up quite a bit since where we were a couple of months ago when we had one of the lowest infection rates in the country. We did pop up a little bit after Thanksgiving, and now we stabilized.

So my number-one criteria-- and I think that's true of all of our regional governors. We talk a lot-- is hospital capacity. Right now we still have, you know, beds in terms of ICU and just the general beds at the hospitals. We've got capacity there. We're working to keep our nursing corps, you know, on the battlefield. They started getting vaccinated first part of this week. So that's going to be determinative in terms of what we do going forward.

I don't see any need right now for any further restrictions or lockdowns.

MYLES UDLAND: And Governor Lamont, building off of Julie's question, you know, we're based here in New York and New Jersey, so we're thinking about the tri-state area from that direction. But if you think about what's happening in Rhode Island, that's a very concerning situation, and, you know, you share a considerable border with that state. Are you in touch with the governors of Massachusetts and Rhode Island in thinking about kind of the eastern half of the state and, you know, maybe the Hartford area and points east of there, pressures they might face because of the borders that they share?

NED LAMONT: Yeah, good question. Yeah, I talk to Charlie and Gina in Massachusetts and Rhode Island a lot. Rhode Island, as you know, did have a flare up there, and Gina's brought her protocols more close to Connecticut in terms of closing down bars, limiting operation at restaurants. Let's see if that begins to make a difference.

JULIE HYMAN: I do want to dig a little bit more into vaccine deployment. And before I get your take on this, I just want to play a little bit for you from our Anjalee Khemlani's interview with the surgeon general, Jerome Adams. She asked him about the possibility of some sort of vaccine mandate, and this is what he said.

JEROME ADAMS: Right now, we are not recommending that anyone mandate a vaccine. This vaccine hasn't been fully approved yet. It's been authorized, and that means that scientists, the FDA, and independent scientists feel that the benefit far outweighs the risk.

JULIE HYMAN: And certainly that seems to be the consensus view, that the benefits outweigh the risk. Governor, do you feel like you all are getting enough of the vaccine in Connecticut? Is it as readily available as you want, and what do your deployment plans look like there?

NED LAMONT: Look, we're ready to deploy as much as we can get from the feds. We've got the infrastructure in place in our nursing homes, in our hospitals, ready to deploy at pharmacies all across the state. Just like they administer flu shots, they can also do the COVID shots as well.

Look, we were pretty tough on the federal government early on in the pandemic when they were not prepared and issued a lot of conflicting advice, didn't have PPE. We had to scramble around the globe, each state on its own. They've done much better when it comes to the vaccine, and they purchased on a national basis. They're getting allocated on a per capita basis. We got the dry ice. We got the refrigeration.

So, look, we're ready for more vaccines, and our people are ready to be vaccinated. We had people lined up looking for the opportunity to be a little safe and to lead by example.

BRIAN SOZZI: Governor, there's a lot of optimism in the business community, certainly on Wall Street. The stock market continues to hit record highs. Just based on what you know in terms of the vaccine rollout and based on your business background, do you think there's just too much optimism right now, that the vaccine-- half the US will be vaccinated by the middle of next year and poof, US growth starts to roar again?

NED LAMONT: Look, let's not get ahead of ourselves. That's for sure. We're going to have all of our front-line health-care and nursing-home workers and staff vaccinated twice by the end of January, but that still leaves about 90% of our Connecticut population. So that's why we're going to continue to wear the masks, continue to be cautious.

As a former business guy, it's a matter of slowly building people's confidence up. Right now, our reservations at restaurants, for example, are way down. Julie asked, are you going to close them down? Right now, people prefer eating outdoors, prefer eating at home. So it's going to take a while to build back that confidence. Steady as she goes.

MYLES UDLAND: And, you know, Governor Lamont, related to the economy, in terms of your budget situation right now, we've seen some say that their tax revenues have been a bit better than expected in the second half of the year. People have gone out. You know, spending within the state is a bit stronger. Is that something that you've seen, and what is your situation right now as we head into 2021?

NED LAMONT: I'd say in this last cycle, the numbers were better than what we had projected for this fiscal year. That's in part thanks to PPP and a lot of people-- restaurants able to stay open, our sales tax able to keep up. That was really good.

You know, this next cycle is people are hesitant, not perhaps going to restaurants and as such. We may see a hit on our sales-tax revenue. Look, but I will tell you we had tens of thousands of people move to Connecticut in the last six months, so that's certainly helped our income-tax revenues as well.

But overall, look, we're going to see a bit of a hit in the next fiscal year and still looking to see what the federal government's going to do. And if they can't get their act together, thank God Connecticut has a $3 billion rainy-day fund, so we may have to tap into that to make sure we can keep going without raising taxes.

JULIE HYMAN: Well, Governor, I do want to dig into the stimulus question a little bit more. We keep hearing that we're getting closer and closer to the finish line, and yet we're not quite there. And so what is the urgency level at this point given that you have that rainy-day fund, given that you have the cushion of people moving into the state? Where is the most acute need in terms of funding in Connecticut, and how long can you hang on before you get that help from the federal government?

NED LAMONT: Yeah, hurry up. It's like "Waiting for Godot." You guys have been discussing this for about, you know, six months, five months, four months, and governors in the meantime have to continue to deliver services. December 31, things shut down. Unemployment shuts down for an awful lot of people. I've got to continue vaccinating people. I've got to continue testing people.

So look, my priorities, let's get something passed. If you get something done for small business, that's amazing because right now, you know, they're on, you know, vapors at this point. More broadly, give us some money for testing and vaccinations so we can continue to build out that infrastructure. That's an important part of what's going on.

And finally, look, the state and local aid, that's an important piece. My other governors are out there borrowing on the open market right now to pay operating expenses. Connecticut's not in that position, but we all will get there if we can't figure this out pretty soon, Mitch McConnell.

BRIAN SOZZI: Governor, how necessary do you think extra direct stimulus payments to households is as part of the stimulus plan? We've seen those numbers go all over the place. One bill called for $300 checks. Another one that is out this morning, reportedly $1,200 checks. What do you think households need right now?

NED LAMONT: I think what we need is protection for small business. I think we need rent relief. And I think we've got to continue the unemployment since we're all sitting around at 8%, 9%, 10%, and that's still all COVID related. I'd like to think the unemployment numbers go down as our economy gets stronger later in the spring. But these are all supports that are my priority.

JULIE HYMAN: Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut, indeed we will be very happy when we can end this period of four, five, six months of talking about getting ever closer to stimulus without quite getting there. Thank you, as always, for joining us. It's great to check in with You.

NED LAMONT: Thanks Julie, Brian, Myles. Talk to you soon.