How did COVID-19 change Connecticut?
A lot has changed in Connecticut in the three years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state saw an increase in business owners, babies and shootings, and a decrease in air travel, school attendance and prison populations. What else changed?
WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s José Luis Martínez to discuss his article, “How Connecticut changed during COVID, in 10 charts,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.
WSHU: Hello, Jose. You write about the changes in Connecticut during the COVID-19 pandemic. And you break them down into charts. So let's get through the charts. And let's start with something I find very interesting. You say COVID has made Connecticut more entrepreneurial, with more than 3,000 new businesses a month. Can you tell us more about this?
JLM: Yeah, so we looked at Census data for the number of applications for an EIN, an employer identification number. That measures people's intentions to start a business. We saw that before the pandemic, there was a monthly average of 2,800 applications. And in the first few months of the pandemic, there were some decreases.
After the pandemic, the number went up to 3,800. And it stayed like that for a while. And you know, we talked to a few experts, and they had a few things to say, like people got laid off. So they were like, hey, why not? Now's the perfect time to start a business. A lot of people didn't get laid off, they were just like, there's a whole new industry here, let me shoot my shot with starting a business. And a lot more folks retired as well. So you know, another chance to start a business opportunity.
WSHU: And also during the pandemic, people were shut in. So did we have a baby boom?
JLM: You know, we really did in 2021, we saw a 5.5% increase from the previous year in the number of babies born. And 5.5% might not sound like a lot, but when you compare it to the previous changes, 2018, 2019 and 2020, they all saw around a 1% decrease in the number of babies and even 2022 again saw another 1% decrease. So yeah, we did have a baby boom, the year after pandemic started.
WSHU: And people were working from home as well. Now that the pandemic is over, and we're out of the emergency, are people working from home still?
JLM: Yeah, a lot of them are still working at home, we used Census data as well for that. And the most recent data is 2021. But estimates show that the numbers doubled here in Connecticut, we went from just under 94,000 in 2019, to around 186,020 in 2021. So that comes to about 10% of the working population here in Connecticut is working remotely. And 2022 estimates will come out later this year. So we'll be looking into that later.
WSHU: And air travel seems to have picked up. It totally vanished in the middle of the pandemic. Hardly anyone was going anywhere. But it seems as if all the planes are full now.
JLM: Yeah we're slowly getting back there. What we did, we got the average number of yearly travelers from 2016 to 2019. And we compared them to the number of travelers this year, And we are 76% of the way back to where we were. And that's, that's huge. We're almost at 90%. Other regional airports nearby are recovering faster. You have LaGuardia, which is at almost 96%. You have the Newark Airport, which is above 96%. So, we're there, we're just trailing behind the other regional airports, but we're getting back there.
WSHU: And during the pandemic, a lot of parents kept their children home. So absentee levels went up, have we recovered from that?
JLM: We haven't recovered from the chronic absenteeism rates. And by the way, those are where students who missed 10% or greater of the total number of days enrolled in the school year. Before the pandemic, in 2019 to 2020 overall chronic absenteeism rates were at 12.2%. The following year, we went to 19%. And the following year it was 23.7%. And now this current school year, as of March, it's still at 21.8%.
So there's a 10 percentage point difference there. Students still aren't coming back to class. And there's a variety of reasons. Some officials attributed the beginning of the school year to COVID, the flu, RSV, a few more things, and they're trying to get those students without high needs and with high needs back into the classroom.
WSHU: And I see here that you say we're drinking more.
JLM: Yes, that's right. Yeah. A few months into the pandemic, we looked at how much retailers bought from wholesalers. All types of alcohol, liquor, beer, cider, wine. And yeah, we saw some record increases in the few months after the pandemic. From June to August of 2020, we saw 16.5 million gallons of beer and cider purchased. That's the highest of any other summer before. So yeah, people got to drinking as the lockdown continued and social distancing measures kept going.
WSHU: But we also saw the lowest prison population in decades. Now that the pandemic is over, where do we stand as far as Connecticut's prison population?
JLM: In 2020, we saw a 25% decrease in the prison population, which is huge. Given that the previous year it was decreasing by about 3 to 7%. And yeah, it kept on decreasing in those mainly for two reasons. Our justice reporter, Jaden Edison, pointed me to some reporting that we did last year where there were discretionary releases going on, and people ending their trial. Courts were closed down, so people couldn't go to trial to be sentenced. And now, after the pandemic is over, the public health emergency is over, the numbers are starting to tick up again, but not to pre-pandemic levels, you know, numbers are still low. So, yeah, the major decrease was in 2020, that 25% decrease.
WSHU: Now, death rates went up during COVID. What's the situation with that now? Because we don't have those daily numbers anymore. But where do we stand as far as death rates?
JLM: Yeah, so we looked at death rates for a few causes. Firearm deaths went up significantly, motor vehicle collision deaths also went up. They dropped a little bit in 2021, but they skyrocketed in 2022. Another interesting thing is that suicides actually dropped during the pandemic, there were 426 in 2019, but in 2020, there were 359. In the following two years, 2021 and 2022, they did increase a little bit more, but not to pre-pandemic levels.
WSHU: Now, something that was quite interesting is that during the pandemic, there was a shutdown on evictions. And that was lifted last year. What was the consequence of that lifting of the moratorium on evictions in Connecticut?
JLM: Yeah. So the year of the pandemic there were state protections, the CDC also placed some protections, saying no evictions are going to happen. And Ginny Monk, our housing reporter, was really helpful in explaining this to me. Evictions dropped in 2020, there were only around 6,400 compared to 19,000, the previous year, but protections were lifted. There were rental assistance applications, you know, they got some barriers in the way. And last year in 2022, we saw the highest number of evictions in the past few years. We saw about 22,746, which is a lot compared to years prior. I mean, the highest amount we've seen in recent years was 20,000 in 2017. So people attribute this to a variety of things, like the protections being lifted. And also, people are still in dire situations after COVID. Not everybody has recovered, so evictions have risen.
WSHU: And we spent a lot of time online during COVID. Are we still spending a lot of time online? And what are we doing online?
JLM: Yeah, so we looked to see what Connecticut residents are Googling, what are the fastest rising Google search terms. I'll name a few; at the very beginning of the year in 2020, we were looking at Kobe Bryant when he passed away in the crash. Then in March, we were all searching for Coronavirus tips. Then as the months went on, George Floyd, Juneteenth, Naya Rivera, Jacob Blake, election results. And at the end of 2022, some of the things we were looking at were Bristol Police, which can be attributed to the two officers that were killed, election results again and then Chat GPT the end of 2022, which as we know is you know, causing a lot of big changes.
WSHU: So where do we stand when looking at all these numbers? Have we fully recovered? Are we on our way to recovery?
JLM: I would say there's a lot of changes in the industries and how we interact. As you see a lot of people are staying online, working from home, that's causing downtown's to be emptier, some businesses to shut down, some apartments are being remodeled, repurposed. At the same time as some people are still in dire financial situations, you know, people are getting back to airports. So a variety of things. So I would say Connecticut is changing, and it's up to Connecticut residents to choose what we change it into.