By Andreas Yilma And Paul Hughes, Staff
Area residents celebrate new guidelines after a long year
NAUGATUCK — A little bit of liberation from COVID-19 mask restrictions started with a bang, or rather a spark, at one Naugatuck restaurant.
“It’s been a long year,” Oxford resident Steve Kozek said. “For the most part, people are looking for an opportunity to get out and be a little more free.”
Feelings of relief and freedom were shared with a few dozen people May 19 at a mask burning event organized by The Station Restaurant co-owner Carlos Santos.
Another big change is the long-awaited reopening of bars and nightclubs. Bar service no longer has to be coupled with food service.
The event fell on the same day as new state COVID-19 guidelines went into effect.
The updated mask order reflected new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that stated fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor settings. Someone is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after they have received a final dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the new directive.
The new CDC guidance still calls for people to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, such as riding on buses and planes. It requires all people to wear masks when using public transportation. It also applies to homeless shelters and prisons.
In addition, hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities may continue to require people wear masks on their property. Also, businesses, state and local government offices and events may choose to require universal masking.
At The Station’s event, about four dozen masks could be seen in a pile before the fire pit was ignited. Dozens of people sporadically walked over from the dining room and another patio to drop their masks in the fire in one of the restaurant’s two patios on Water Street.
“We’re here tonight just celebrating the beginning of our return to normalcy. So many of our loyal customers asked us to do this,” said Santos, who organized the event with co-owner Jim Perzhilla. “We felt the timing was right. Everybody was ready for an event like this.”
Santos said his restaurant persevered, but struggled through the pandemic and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit.
Scott and Kris Stella of Naugatuck said the mask burning event signifies freedom for the couple.
“I love seeing people’s faces and I’ve missed that,” Kris Stella said. “That’s what it means to me. Seeing everyone smile again and seeing your face.”
Capacity limits and curfews on businesses are also now gone, and so are table limits for restaurants. Also, movie theater capacity is back to 100%. There are no longer limits on gathering sizes.
Tables at The Station Restaurant were all nearly filled on May 19.
The big changes May 19 came one day shy of a year after Lamont started to reopen Connecticut, allowing restaurants to offer outdoor dining, permitting offices, retail stores and malls to reopen, letting museums and zoos open outdoor exhibits, subject to capacity limits and other public health requirements.
At that time, Lamont had outlined a three-stage reopening plan that anticipated a return to business and life as normal in the fall of 2020. It anticipated four weeks between each stage, but also allowed that intervals might need to be extended.
Then, developments in the pandemic last summer led the governor to pause the reopening until early October. A month later, Lamont rolled back the relaxed rules as a second outbreak flared up. Six months later, the reopening has resumed.