Lamont suspends Phase 3; bars stay closed for now
Gov. Ned Lamont is suspending phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, as the coronavirus continues its fast-moving spread through states that were initially spared the ravages of the infection.
“We’re just erring on the side of caution as we look at other states,” Lamont announced Monday.
That means private gatherings will remain at 25 people inside and 100 people outside, bars will remain closed and indoor dining at restaurants and gyms will remain at 50 percent capacity. Large entertainment venues including racetracks will remain at 25 percent capacity. Lamont did not immediately offer a new date for the introduction of phase 3, which was originally slated for July 20.
“We’re trying to be cautious,” Lamont said. “We don’t want to have to backtrack, we don’t want to open something and then have to close it.”
State campgrounds will still open July 8 as planned, and outdoor graduation ceremonies — allowed under certain guidelines including capacity limits of 150 people as of Monday — will continue as planned.
The announcement came after a long holiday weekend that saw hospitalizations due to COVID-19 decline to just 69, the lowest in months. Just 259 people tested positive out of 24,692 tests performed since Friday.
Lamont noted that Connecticut’s phase 2 — which began June 20 by allowing indoor dining at 50 percent, keeping bars closed and expanding gathering sizes, among other things — is in line with many of the guidelines other states are putting in place now, after fully reopening in April or May.
He contrasted a photo of a crowded beach in Fort Meyers, Fla., from the holiday weekend with Hammonasset Beach State Park, which showed people abiding by guidelines to spread out, and cited Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s comments in late June that he regretted reopening bars so quickly in the Lone Star state.
“Let’s not get too big for our britches,” Lamont warned. “They had a very low rate just three months ago and Connecticut and New York and New Jersey were representative for well over half of all the positivity; now the shoe is on the other foot.”
He added, “We can have a lot of guidance, we can have a lot of protocols, but they only work if people follow our guidance.”
Under a tentative plan, the outside gatherings would have been expanded to 250 this week — but that did not happen.
Event planners and wedding service providers such as caterers, who depend on larger groups of participants, said they need clarity before allowing all but the smallest events to go ahead.
“We have to start getting our weddings back,” said Trish Calabrese, event manager for the Birchwoods at Oak Lane banquet facility in Woodbridge.
Calabrese on Monday said that the current limitations of 25 people inside or 100 outside, with no bar and no dance floor, is making the facility’s operations tenuous.
“We’re hanging in there,” Calabrese said. But until they can hold parties indoors for 75 to 80 people on the golf course property, it will be difficult.
Starting July 3, outdoor gathering for organized activities, such as public fireworks could include 500 people, with 15 feet of social distance between groups. Outdoor venues including musical theaters and race tracks could operate at 25 percent capacity, with distancing.
State Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who owns a recreational complex including indoor playing fields, said Monday that he could have opened the gymnasium last month, but held off, despite a drastic loss of revenue.
“Given what is happening in other states, Connecticut is taking a pause,” said Candelora who recently saw a draft of the phase 3 plan.
“Gov. Lamont has had concerns with the bars and indoor activities,” Candelora said. “We’ve had phase 1 and 2 with zero upticks in infections.”
He noted that many experts predicted rising infections in Connecticut, but it hasn’t occurred.
“I think it is a function of wearing the mask,” he said.
During the nearly four-month-long health crisis, Lamont has collaborated with neighbors including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts in addressing the crisis. Both of those states postponed the restart of indoor restaurant dining, while Connecticut went ahead with that launch on June 17, at a maximum of half-capacity.
“We have to stay smart,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said he was disappointed that many New Yorkers ignored the laws on social distancing and mask-wearing. “If we don’t do it, there’s going to be a very serious problem.”
He added, “This is a frightening situation across the United States.”
Calabrese said she’s hopeful, but realistic. “It’s tough,” she said. “Hopefully 2021 will be looking good.”