Phase 2 of reopening starts

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont had some concerns but no second thoughts Tuesday about reopening more businesses and relaxing additional coronavirus restrictions today.

Now, gyms, hotels, amusement parks, movie theaters, bowling alleys and other businesses are being allowed to restart. Indoor dining may resume in restaurants, and more outdoor activities, too, including sports.

An estimated 95% of Connecticut’s economy will be opening up as the state continues to recover from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest reopening rules are also increasing the size limits on private gatherings from 10 people indoors to 25, and from 20 people to 100 outdoors.

Also, it was announced Tuesday there will be a 500-person maximum for fireworks displays and other outdoor celebrations on the Fourth of July holiday, provided groups of viewers remain 15 feet apart from each other.

ALL THIS IS HAPPENING a little more than three months after the first laboratory-confirmed case of coronavirus disease was reported in the state on March 8.

Since then, approximately 45,350 people have been infected, nearly 10,000 patients required hospitalization, and 4,210 lives have been lost.

Lamont said the spread of COVID-19 has slowed enough and the state response has progressed sufficiently that he is comfortable going ahead with the second reopening phase as scheduled.

“The trends are all continuing on the same right path,” he said.

Public health officials reported 114 additional cases of COVID-19 since Monday, and an additional 5,041 tests results were received. There were also six more deaths.

Lamont singled out hospitalizations. There was only a net decline of two patients between new admissions and discharges to 201 statewide, but this was roughly 10% of the peak of 1,972 patients on April 22.

“We’re down about 90% in terms of hospitalizations since then,” he said.

Lamont cautioned he is prepared to dial back if the prevailing public health conditions change.

“Be wary, because if the metrics change, if hospitalizations scoot up, if we have these flare-ups, we’ll have to change course,” he said. “That is just reality.”

David Lehman, the state’s commissioner of economic and community development, said Connecticut must keep up its “culture of compliance” with COVID-19 protocols, particularly continuing to wear masks in public, following hand hygiene recommendations, and maintaining social distancing.

“My concern is people see the data, and they think we are back to normal, but we are not,” he said. “It is important that we reopen the economy, but we can’t let our guard down as it relates to these mitigation efforts. Otherwise, we will jeopardize our reopening, and we don’t want to go back where we were in March and April.”

THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT reported Tuesday no change from Monday in the number of cases and deaths associated with COVID-19 in Naugatuck and Beacon Falls. There have been 371 cases in Naugatuck and 48 in Beacon Falls. There have been 35 confirmed and three probable deaths associated with COVID-19 in Naugatuck and none in Beacon Falls.

As of Friday, the latest data released by the Chesprocott Health District, there had been 66 cases in Prospect and no coronavirus-related deaths in town.

A GROUP OF SMALL BUSINESSES and a state lawmaker have filed a lawsuit in state court over Lamont’s earlier orders that required some businesses to close to the public.

Lamont said he was unaware of this latest legal challenge. He said he believes he acted within the powers that state statutes grant to the governor in declared public health and civil preparedness emergencies.

In the lawsuit, five business owners and state Sen. Robert C. Sampson, R-16th District, are charging Lamont violated the state and U.S. Constitutions in declaring certain businesses as essential or nonessential.

The closure orders harmed their businesses and violated their constitutional rights, the group alleged. The group includes owners of two hair salons, four gyms, a tattoo parlor and a martial arts studio. Sampson is a real estate agent.

“I recognize that Gov. Lamont has had to make truly difficult decisions during this crisis,” Sampson said. “However, over time it has become clear he has shifted from addressing legitimate public health concerns to advancing a political policy agenda. Many of his executive orders constitute overreaches of his authority which must be challenged.”

The legal action seeks court orders invalidating the applicable executive orders and accompanying rules, blocking enforcement of the directives, and requiring that any future actions follow the requirements of the U.S. Constitution, the Connecticut Constitution, and relevant state laws and regulations. The suit also requests an unspecified amount of compensation, legal fees and costs, and any other relief that the courts deem appropriate.

Lamont issued an executive order on March 20 that directed all but designated essential businesses to close to the public through April 22. The order was extended several times. The first group of affected businesses were allowed to reopen on May 20.

The initial executive order said essential businesses will include any that fall within 16 critical infrastructure sectors the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified. It also directed the Department of Economic and Community Development to designate businesses as essential or nonessential.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.