State eyes partial reopening this month

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday announced plans to start allowing some Connecticut businesses to reopen to the public on May 20 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Lamont said a partial lifting of the current emergency orders is possible because of developments in the spread of coronavirus disease and anticipated increases in testing contact tracing capabilities.

Critically, hospitalizations for COVID-19 decreased for an eighth consecutive day. A 14-day decline in the hospitalization rate is crucial to Lamont’s reopening strategy. Through mid-day Thursday, there was a net decline of 41 patients to 1,650.

An additional 2,315 COVID-19 tests were reported Thursday. The plan is to ramp up testing to 6,000 a day by May 20. To date, more than 97,130 tests have been performed.

The infection and death rates continued to increase. An additional 933 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 brought the statewide total to 27,700. The number of fatal cases rose to 2,257 with 89 more deaths reported since Wednesday.

The Naugatuck Valley Health District reported there have been 181 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus in Naugatuck and 35 in Beacon Falls as of Thursday. There has been one coronavirus-related death of a Naugatuck resident, a woman in her 80s, according to the health district.

On Thursday, the Chesprocott Health District reported 40 laboratory-confirmed cases in Prospect.

Lamont outlined the strategy to gradually lift the complete and partial shutdowns of businesses Thursday with the two co-leaders of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board, Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, and Dr. Albert Ko, a Yale epidemiologist.

THE RECOVERY PLAN ANTICIPATES reopening businesses with certain restrictions in four stages, starting on May 20 when the current emergency orders are due to expire.

“This is baby steps,” Nooryi said.

The businesses reopening schedule is based on risk assessments, and the order will go from least to most risky.

The initial group will include nonessential retail businesses that were closed to the public, offices, university research programs, and personal care businesses such as nail salons, barber shops and hair salons.

Restaurants will be allowed to resume outdoor service, but no outdoor bars. Also, outdoor exhibits at zoos and museums will be allowed, as well as outdoor recreation such as camping and mountain biking.

Nooyi said the plan anticipates a minimum of four weeks between each stage, but the intervals could be eight to 10 weeks based developments in the pandemic and how each phase goes.

“Once we open this first round of businesses, we will learn so much about how long it will take to open on the next level,” she said.

PROGRESS WILL ALSO DEPEND on the availability of testing, supplies of personal protective equipment, hospital capacity, contract tracing, and other factors.

Lamont said the state should be in a position to do widespread testing for COVID-19 and tracing of the people who were possibility infected after coming into contact with someone with the virus.

There will have to be a significant increase in testing based on the current rate and turnaround times.

“We are really shooting by May 20 to have about 42,000 tests per week,” Ko said. “So, that is roughly 6,000 tests per day. That is three times what we are doing. There is a lot of fluctuation about how many tests we are doing day-to-day, but it’s roughly three times.”

If there is a flare-up of COVID-19, or other conditions warrant, Lamont said he is prepared to put a pause on reopening businesses and relaxing social distancing requirements.

“This is a virus which is very transmissible. This is a virus that’s not going to go away,” Ko said. “It’s not going to go away even with our best public health prevention and control measures. We’re always going to have the threat of resurgence.”

THE REOPENING STRATEGY that was sketched out Thursday fell short for the Connecticut Restaurant Association.

Executive Director Scott Dolch said limited outdoor dining isn’t a big enough step to save thousands of restaurants on the brink of going out of businesses. Currently, food service is limited to takeout and delivery.

“In recent months, we have proven we are capable of adapting and keeping our customers and workers safe. We can open dining rooms in a way that is safe and would not restrict restaurants to only outdoor service for such an extended period, as was recommended today,” he said.

Dan Meiser, chairman of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, is a member of a business subcommittee of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.

“We’re asking the group to be flexible as they refine these plans, and we stand ready to help them do it,” Dolch said.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, slammed Lamont for failing to present a detailed plan for reopening the economy

“A PowerPoint presentation that lacks detail or common sense applications that work for small and even large companies and employers does not cut it,” Klarides said. “These are all conditional policies based on unknown data that no one knows how to implement or how it will affect them.”

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.