By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) - Connecticut's governor on Tuesday said the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies was now empty and the state was "on its own" trying to secure ventilators and masks to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The stockpile is the country's largest store of medical supplies for use in a crisis and for weeks governors have been clamoring for its dwindling stocks of face masks and other gear to protect frontline medics, first responders and patients.
"It was disturbing today to find out that the national strategic stockpile is now empty. We did get 50 ventilators, for which I am very thankful," Governor Ned Lamont said. "For now we are on our own. For now we are doing the best to scour the globe for PPE (personal protective equipment) as best we can."
Connecticut has the fourth highest number of coronavirus cases per capita among U.S. states at over 3,000 and its virus deaths rose to 69 on Tuesday.
The state has increased hospital capacity by 50% to handle an expected peak in cases in the next two to three weeks. Nursing homes are moving coronavirus patients into quarantine areas, with at least 30 facilities reporting at least one case.
"April will be the horrible month," said Lamont, adding that the hardest hit counties were those closest to New York City. "You can see the virus is heading north."
To ease the financial impact of the pandemic, Connecticut on Tuesday announced that 62 banks and credit unions had agreed to a 90-day mortgage payment grace period for workers laid off, furloughed or otherwise affected by the virus, the state's banking commissioner George Perez told the news conference..
The institutions will also cease foreclosures for the next 60 days.
Lamont said renters would not be evicted as a result of job losses or other coronavirus-related factors.
"I can give people pretty good confidence they're going to stay in their home," said Lamont.
The governor said Connecticut was releasing nonviolent offenders from state prisons to slow the spread of the virus amongst inmates.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Lisa Shumaker)