NORWICH, Conn. (AP) — Cars were lined up at COVID-19 testing sites in Norwich on Friday, a day after the Connecticut Department of Public Health issued an emergency alert after seeing what's being called a “significant spike” in positive cases.

At one site run by UCFS Healthcare, 120 tests were administered. Typically, they test about 15 on Friday.

Free testing was also planned over the weekend at drive-through and walk-up locations throughout the city of nearly 40,000 and Patrick McCormack, director of the Uncas Health District, said plans were underway to conduct testing in congregate settings next weeks, such as elderly housing complexes.

McCormack said there have been 119 positive cases over an eight-day period in Norwich, a city located in a part of the state that had a low infection rate during the early months of the pandemic. The daily case rate has risen to 24 per 100,000 – the highest rate in the state, according to Gov. Ned Lamont's office.

McCormack said the jump in cases has not been linked to any one event or activity, noting most of those infected range in age from 30 to 59 years old.

“There’s certainly pockets of social activity we find when we do contract tracing,” he said. But nothing has come to light as a specific incident or a specific group of incidents."

City and school officials have taken steps try and stop the spread of the virus. Schools are switching to remote learning, basketball hoops have been taken down and city police are asking residents to report nonemergency calls online.

As the cases spike, nurses at the city's William W. Backus Hospital, who've been in a contract dispute since June, informed management on Friday they plan to wage a two-day strike in 10 days if an agreement is not reached.

Sherri Dayton, a registered nurse and president of Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local 5149, said her roughly 400 members are paid less than nurses at area hospitals and they've struggled throughout the pandemic to have Hartford Healthcare, the hospital's owner, provide them with enough personal protective equipment, a claim the system denies.

She said 11 staff who worked on one floor at Backus were recently infected by a patient from Three Rivers Healthcare, a city nursing home now shuttered by the state. Dayton said three more employees who worked in the critical care unit were infected several weeks ago and another worker tested positive last week after caring for a patient admitted to the emergency room.

“I’m going to be honest with you. There’s a lot of nurses who are scared. And the reason for that is, is because when they test positive, we get blamed by the hospital,” she said.

In a video response, Donna Handley, president of Backus and Windham hospitals, said she was “deeply, deeply disappointed” as a nurse herself in the union's notification of a two-day strike.

“The community needs us now more than ever with the increasing COVID-19 cases. This is a time to join together in the fight against COVID," she said, adding how the hospital administration has done everything it can to avoid a strike and will “work around the clock” to reach an agreement with the nurses.

She said Backus will remain open.

In response to the region's increased infection rate, Foxwoods Resort Casino, a major employer, announced it will continue to operate at 25% capacity.

“As the state cautiously continues to reopen under the phase 3 guidelines issued by the Governor, we believe it is in the best interest of our team members, guests, tribal members and communities to maintain our current 25% capacity threshold given the recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in our region," Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ Interim CEO, said in a written statement. The casino reopened in June after a nearly three-month closure.

There were 110 people hospitalized statewide with the virus and two more coronavirus-related deaths were reported Friday, bringing the state’s total to 4,513.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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