By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont is increasing limits for indoor dining to three-quarters of seating capacity as the cold weather makes outdoor service less of a viable option for Connecticut restaurants.
Lamont announced Thursday the revised seating limit and other changes to coronavirus operating rules that are scheduled to take effect Oct. 8.
Attendance limits for social, recreational and religious gatherings are also being increased along with indoor and outdoor entertainment venues.
Outdoor event venues such as amphitheaters and race tracks are doubling from 25% capacity to 50% capacity, and indoor performing arts venues are also going to be able to operate at 50% capacity.
The limit for indoor religious, spiritual and worship gatherings is being increased from a maximum of 100 people to 200 people. There are no caps for outdoor observances. The same indoor and outdoor rules will also apply to graduations.
Private social gatherings in restaurants, catering halls and other places of business will be capped at 100 people. The limit for private residences is remaining at 25 people, but the maximum for such private outdoor gatherings is going from 100 people to 150.
Lamont said the prevailing public health conditions support loosening these coronavirus-related restrictions, but he will be prepared to roll back the changes if COVID-19 flares up.
“We’re ramping up a little bit in terms of risk, but, look, we could dial it right back,” he said.
Through Thursday, there have been approximately 56,500 COVID-19 cases reported in Connecticut, 11,560 hospitalizations and nearly 5,000 deaths. There were 157 new cases reported Thursday, 72 patients hospitalized statewide, and two more coronavirus-associated deaths.
The Naugatuck Valley Health District reported Thursday there there have been 437 confirmed coronavirus cases in Naugatuck and 59 in Beacon Falls. There have been 37 confirmed deaths associated with coronavirus and four probable deaths in Naugatuck and none in Beacon Falls.
The Chesprocott Health District’s weekly update reported Sept. 18 showed there have been 88 cases in Prospect and no coronavirus-related deaths.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS were shut down March 16 as the viral outbreak was heading toward its peak in Connecticut.
While indoor dining capacity is being increased, Lamont said Connecticut bars and night clubs will remain closed for the time being, and he had no timetable for reopening these establishments.
Restaurants can continue to use bars to seat diners, and bars that are able to arrange food service can continue to operate.
Restaurants had been limited to 50% of seating capacity since the governor allowed indoor dining to resume on June 17 just ahead of Father’s Day. Outdoor dining was allowed on May 20.
The revision will increase the limit to 75% effective Oct. 8, subject to state guidelines on distancing, masking wearing and other state requirements.
The Connecticut Restaurant Association applauded the changes announced Thursday. The 8,500-member trade group had been lobbying to increase operating parameters.
“Connecticut restaurateurs have proven their ability to adapt, follow new rules, and serve customers safely,” said Scott Dolch, the executive director of the restaurant association.
Lamont also announced barbershops, hair salons and other personal care businesses will also be able to operate at 75% capacity.
THE GOVERNOR’S ANNOUNCEMENTS coincided with the release Thursday of a Connecticut Business & Industry survey that showed a significant drop in the number of companies expecting to make a profit this year.
The CBIA reported 47% of the 962 business executives who responded to the annual business climate survey are projecting a profitable year, 28% anticipate losses and 25% expect to break even.
In contrast, the survey said 77% of companies posted profits in 2019, while 13% broke even and 11% operated at a loss.
Asked about their outlook for the Connecticut economy, 59% of business executives said they expect a contraction over the next 12 months, including 18% who project a strong decline in growth.
Only 12% see the state’s economy growing in the next year and 29% expect economic conditions to remain static.
Lamont said the CBIA survey results reflect the unease of the business community at the moment.
“I think the business community still knows we’re in a COVID economy, and they’re somewhat hesitant,” he said.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has caused record unemployment in Connecticut.
In the CBIA survey, 57% of executives said they cut work hours, furloughed employees and laid off employees.
The state lost 291,300 jobs during the height of the outbreak in March and April, including a record 269,200 jobs in April. The latest monthly employment report showed only 54% had been recovered through August.
The CBIA survey found only 20% of businesses expect to increase their workforce over the next six months, slightly down from 2019, and well below the 39% that said they planned to add jobs in 2018.
Another 20% expect employment at their companies to decline, and 59% say job levels will remain stable.
“We have opened, starting May 20th, in a very methodical way, but the economy will never come back if public health is not front and center,” Lamont said. “That is true just in terms of giving consumers confidence. It is true more broadly in terms of the economy. I think Connecticut so far is going in the right direction. I think the business community appreciate that, as well.”
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.