Lamont says restrictions could be eased by mid-March


By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

Gov. Ned Lamont told the Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commence on Friday that he anticipates relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions in mid-March if encouraging COVID-19 trends continue.

This was the most definitive statement from Lamont on the timing of the next reopening phase since he ordered a partial roll back in November amid a second coronavirus outbreak.

Specifically, the governor said he anticipates raising the attendance limits for indoor and outdoor events at commercial venues in a month, provided the viral outbreak does not take a turn for the worse again. He also indicated that other reopening rules could be loosened up at that time.

“Let’s say on March 15 if the metrics all hold up, I think you’re going to be able to have more people on indoor events and a lot more people on outdoor events because outdoors is so much safer, subject to the metrics,” Lamont said.

“So, I can’t take all the risk off the table. It is not like I know what the South African flu is going to do in a month from now, but I am going to do my best to say right now, given where we are, I anticipate on March 15 that things are going to start opening up,” he continued.

Previously, Lamont had declined to provide a general time frame or a specific date for easing reopening rules and other state mandates that he has been imposing using emergency powers for nearly a year now.

The governor’s office confirmed later Friday that Lamont will make a more definitive announcement on reopening plans Tuesday after he consults top aides over the weekend. Bob Murdock, president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau, said the governor’s announcement is welcomed news. The public-private partnership is a sales and marketing organization for events planners and venues.

“That is great news for our venues. We’re slowly reopening,” Murdock said. “The numbers in the state are trending in the right direction. We want to open venues on a larger scale in a safe manner. Obviously, that is the No. 1 thing.”

LAMONT INITIALLY ORDERED some business to close to the public after he declared public health and civil preparedness emergencies last March 10, days after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Connecticut.

He first relaxed the restrictions on May 20, and next on June 17, and a third time on Oct. 8, but then he partially rolled back the reopening on Nov. 6 as a second COVID-19 outbreak was starting to surge across the state.

The limit for indoor dining for restaurants reverted from 75% to 50% of allowable seating capacity, and an eight-person limit per table and a 10 p.m. curfew on table service were imposed. The cap on private social gatherings in restaurants, catering halls and other places of business was decreased from a maximum of 100 people to 25 people. The limit for outdoor gatherings was reset from 150 attendees to 50.

Entertainment venues such as bowling allies, movie theaters and arcades were also ordered to close at 9:30 p.m. Movie theaters and indoor performing arts venues were capped at 100 people. Other event venues were limited to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

The Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau, the Connecticut Event Industry Coalition and the Connecticut Restaurant Associated appealed to Lamont in a letter Thursday to set a specific date for allowing indoor events of at least 150 guests.

“The event industry has been one of the hardest hit leading to an entire year of lost revenue and these businesses are in serious jeopardy of closing permanently,” the three associations wrote.

The letter noted New York state recently announced a March 15 reopening of events up to 150 people, and New Jersey has already moved to allow indoor events up to 150-person maximum.

THE GOVERNOR THREW OUT the March 15 date after a member of the Waterbury Regional Chamber asked when catering businesses and event venues in Connecticut could expect limits on social and other private gatherings to be eased.

“I think the answer to that is soon,” Lamont said.

Scott Dolch, executive director for the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said he is expecting some more clarity and definite details, including a reopening timetable, this week after the governor and his reopening team conferred.

Lamont will be consulting with Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, acting public health commissioner, David Lehman, commissioner of economic and community development, Josh Geballe, commissioner of administrative services and the governor’s chief operating officer, Paul Mounds Jr., chief of staff, said Max Reiss, Lamont’s director of communications.

He said the governor will announce plans for moving the state’s reopening forward on Tuesday after the Presidents Day holiday on Monday.

Dolch said restaurant owners would like Lamont to move indoor dining limit closer to 75% of occupancy, lift the eight-person maximum and end the curfew.

The extension of the restaurant curfew to 11 p.m. has had a noticeable effect, he said.

Murdock said the Connecticut Convention & Sport Bureau and its partners want to eventually see Lamont set a capacity limit for event venues, particularly for larger settings such as the Connecticut Convention Center, the XL Center or the Webster Bank Arena.