Connecticut eases some virus-related restrictions
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut will be relaxing many coronavirus-related restrictions in two weeks on businesses, theaters, churches and travel but will be keeping the statewide mask mandate, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday while citing declining infections and hospitalization and increasing vaccinations.
An array of changes will take effect March 19, such as making the state’s restrictions for incoming travelers — including a 10-day quarantine — an advisory rather than mandatory.
Connecticut will be among many states that are easing their COVID-19 restrictions on people and businesses, despite repeated warnings from health officials that the U.S. is risking another lethal wave. Mississippi and Texas are ending their mask mandates.
“I think Connecticut has earned it,” the Democratic governor said. “You know, it’s been tough and people have been frustrated. They’ve been sheltered at home. A lot of our businesses really suffered, and people took a hit. ... So I’ll tell ya. It feels pretty good. It feels good that we’re able to do this.”
On March 19, capacity limits will be eliminated on restaurants, libraries, museums, aquariums, gyms, retail stores, hair salons and churches. Restaurants will still have to close their dining rooms at 11 p.m. and seat no more than eight people per table.
Movie theaters and performing arts venues will still be limited to 50% capacity. Bars that do not serve food will not be allowed to reopen. Gatherings at private residences will be limited to 25 people indoors and 100 outdoors, while commercial venues will be allowed to have 100 people indoors and 200 outdoors.
Sports teams will be allowed to practice and compete, subject to guidance from the state Department of Public Health. Sports tournaments will be permitted.
On April 2, outdoor amusement parks, outdoor event venues and indoor stadiums can open to the public. Outdoor event venues such as sports stadiums will be limited to 50% capacity and a maximum of 10,000 people. Indoor stadiums will be limited to 10% capacity.
State officials also are planning to allow summer camps to open and summer festivals to be held, the governor said.
Lamont acknowledged that some medical experts did not agree with the decision to ease the restrictions.
“Was it unanimous? No. I’ll be blunt about it,” he said. “But I think there is general consensus that we know what works, we know we have capacity at our hospitals, we know we can turn and change if we have to. We haven’t had to as yet.”
In Connecticut, the seven-day rolling average of daily new infections has dropped from about 840 to around 775 over the past two weeks. The seven-day average of daily deaths has dropped nearly in half, from 21 to about 12. Since Dec. 15, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased from about 1,270 to about 430.
The average daily positive test rate over the past seven days is about 2.3%. On Thursday, the state reported 15 more people had died from COVID-19, bringing the total to nearly 7,700 since the pandemic began.
Nearly 640,000 of Connecticut’s 3.6 million residents have received the first of two vaccination shots and another 345,000 are fully vaccinated, according to state data. The state is running an age-based vaccination program. People 55 and older recently became eligible for the inoculations. Nursing home residents, medical workers and people over 75 were among the first to receive the vaccines.
Lamont said other states in the region have been lifting some of their COVID-19 restrictions. On Monday, Massachusetts eliminated restaurant capacity limits, but parties must be spaced 6 feet apart. New York is loosening restrictions on private gatherings and clearing the way for some public performances. New Jersey recently allowed fans to attend sports and entertainment events in the state’s largest facilities, in limited numbers.
Business groups said the easing of restrictions are an important step toward returning to pre-pandemic economic conditions, but more restrictions will have to be lifted to fully get there.
For restaurants, lifting the 11 p.m. curfew and per-table customer limits will be vital, said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
“To be clear, there is still much work to be done before Connecticut and its restaurants are at full strength,” he said.
Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, added, “The state’s revised plan will permit retail business in communities across our state to return closer to normal operations.”
In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:
SCHOOL STAFF VACCINATIONS
In Hartford on Thursday morning, city officials and Trinity Health of New England announced a special vaccination clinic for Hartford school employees including teachers. The clinic at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center is expected to vaccinate 1,500 of the city’s 2,800 school staff on Thursday and Friday, with more inoculations to follow at a later date.
Hartford Superintendent of Schools Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said staff at elementary schools will be a top priority for vaccinations, because those schools have the most in-person learning.
“As the weeks continue to progress and vaccinations continue to become available, we will have all of our students back in our schools later on this spring,” she said.
Lamont on Thursday also signed an executive order allowing the fishing season to start Thursday, about a month early and similar to what he did for last year’s season.
The order removes prohibitions on fishing for trout, which originally were supposed to end April 10.
Opening the season early allows for additional outdoor recreation opportunities and helps people’s mental and physical health during the pandemic, Lamont said.