Questions loom about reopening

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont and top advisers continued Thursday to try to explain to an unsure Connecticut the rules for the businesses that are being allowed to open back up next Wednesday.

State officials reported Thursday that the Department of Economic and Community Development is going to release a how-to guide no later than Monday.

“We realize it is a new world order. The rules can be daunting, but this how-to guide I think is going to be really helpful,” said David Lehman, the commissioner of DECD.

There are some questions, though, that the Lamont administration and the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group are still working to answer just days away from the May 20 reopening date.

Lamont was stumped when asked Thursday if shoppers will be allowed to try on footwear because reopening rules mandate fitting rooms in retail stores that sell clothing must be closed

“Those are the questions that keep us up all night and day,” said Dr. Albert Ko, a Yale epidemiologist and co-leader of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.

LAMONT SHUT DOWN some businesses and closed others to the public after he declared public health and civil preparedness emergencies in early March to respond to coronavirus outbreak.

The first group of businesses being allowed to reopen next Wednesday include retail stores, indoor malls, barbershops and hair salons, professional offices, and outdoor museums and zoos. Restaurants are being allowed to reopen for outdoor dining in addition to takeout and delivery.

The DECD last Saturday released general and industry-specific reopening rules and recommendations. The how-to guide will provide more direction, and the reference book will be updated as the reopenings and pandemic progress, said Gwendolyn Thomas, a deputy DECD commissioner.

Lehman said the administration will likely be making announcements next week concerning the second of the four planned stages of business reopenings. In addition to opening more businesses, the plan is to grant more latitude to businesses that are already open with each phase.

NO RULES WILL BE AIRTIGHT, so businesses, employees and customers are going to have to exercise common sense and courtesy as commerce resumes, said Oni Chukwu, executive chairman of Aventri and chairman of the business subcommittee of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.

“This is going to happen slowly,” Lehman said.

There have been complaints that the Lamont administration is moving too slowly or too quickly, including again Thursday.

Restaurant owners believe eating establishments can safely offer full service on June 3 rather than wait longer, said Dan Meiser, chairman of the Connecticut Restaurant Association and a member of the business subcommittee.

A group of eight Democratic senators wrote Lamont on Thursday telling the Democratic governor that next Wednesday is too soon to reopen while COVID-19 is still spreading in Connecticut.

Senators Joan V. Hartley, D-15th District, and Mary Daugtery Abrams, D-Meriden, signed the letter. Abrams is Senate chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, and Hartley is Senate chairwoman of the Commerce Committee.

In a second letter to Lamont, Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and 10 Senate Democrats concerned about the reopening plan submitted a series of detailed questions and recommendations.

Lamont said he believes his plan has struck the right balance between public safety and the need to resume commerce and social life.

THE STATE’S LARGEST BUSINESS GROUP is concerned about a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

“From our perspective, we’re extremely concerned about the overall economy,” said Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

“Way back when, when we first started talking about shutdowns, a lot of people were thinking it would be three or four weeks, and now we are two months into it. And for some businesses it will go on even longer than that,” he continued. “So, how many can survive that period? When you look at the unemployment rates in Connecticut, they are really, really troubling.”

The Department of Labor on Thursday reported that there have been 515,000 applications for unemployment benefits since mid-March. There are 1.9 million in the labor force, according to the latest figure.

The state government will have the testing, contact tracing and hospital capacity to handle any coronavirus flare-ups going forward, said Lamont and Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer.

Brennan, a member of the business subcommittee, said testing and contact tracing will be essential to staying on top of public health conditions and keeping businesses open.

“We’re all worried about having to shut down once we open up,” he said. “That would really be extremely difficult for our economy to recover from that. So, we just have to be smart about how we do this going forward.”

THE STATE REPORTED AN ADDITIONAL 609 positive tests Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 35,464 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March 8.

Public health officials reported 94 more confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. There have been 3,219 fatalities since the first death was announced on March 18.

Hospitalizations continued to drop with a net decline of 55 patients to 1,103 since Wednesday’s report.

Locally, the Naugatuck Valley Health District reported there have been 264 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus in Naugatuck and 41 in Beacon Falls as of Thursday. The health district reported an additional coronavirus-associated death in Naugatuck resident Thursday, bringing the total to 16. The health district has reported no confirmed or probable deaths from the coronavirus in Beacon Falls.

As of Thursday, the Chesprocott Health District, which serves Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott, reported there have been 50 cases of coronavirus in Prospect and no deaths.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.