State prepares to partially reopen

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Business and social life are opening up a little more in cooped-up Connecticut nine weeks after Gov. Ned Lamont ordered a partial shutdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Retail stores and shopping malls can welcome back customers following state guidelines, and office workers can return to the workplace.

Restaurants can offer outdoor dining in addition to takeout and delivery service. Outdoor museums and zoos are also reopening, and an array of outdoor recreation businesses, too.

Lamont told reporters Tuesday he harbored no second thoughts because he believes his gradual approach balances the state’s public health and economic needs.

“I think we made the right decision,” he said, and added that there are no, risk-free options.

Hair salons and barbershops were among the first group of businesses scheduled to open back to the public Wednesday after being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Lamont said Monday he’s pushing back the reopening of barbershops and hair salons to June 1.

Lamont announced the change in a joint statement with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Riamondo that said both states will coordinate the reopening of hair care businesses.

As the state moves ahead with a slow reopening, Lamont said much depends on how businesses, employees and customers adhere to reopening rules and requirements. He said he is confident because of the level of compliance to date.

The governor said again he is prepared to pause if there is a resurgence of coronavirus disease, but did not define specific public health measures that would trigger such a halt, other than hospitalizations.

“I think the No. 1 metric we’re looking at is hospitalizations, no more than 20% of the hospital beds with COVID patients,” he said. “We know what type of latitude we have. We have probably 40% capacity at our hospitals.”

The Lamont administration just met its first stage goal of performing 42,000 diagnostic tests for COVID-19 a week, and it has organized a contact tracing program to track people who may have been exposed to the virus.

THE HOSPITALIZATION RATE dropped slightly to continue its downward trend Tuesday, while the infection and death rates both increased since Monday’s daily report.

There was a net decrease of six COVID-19 hospitalizations between new admissions and discharges to 917 among the state’s 27 acute care hospitals.

The Department of Public Health reported another 314 positive tests for COVID-19. This brought the statewide total to 38,340 laboratory-confirmed cases. Lamont reported the percentage of positive tests dropped below 5%.

Public health officials reported an additional 7,814 tests for COVID-19 since Monday. To date, 185,520 tests have been performed, but this figure includes multiple tests involving the same patient or specimen.

There were 23 more confirmed or probable deaths from COVID-19. There have been 3,472 reported fatalities.

As of Tuesday, the state reported there have been 333 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Naugatuck, 51 in Prospect and 45 in Beacon Falls.

The number of confirmed cases jumped in Naugatuck this week after the state conducted point prevalence survey testing to test all residents in nursing homes in the borough on the same day, according to the Naugatuck Valley Health District. As of Friday, there were 268 cases in the borough. An increase in cases associated with the point prevalence testing doesn’t indicate a sudden increase in transmission of coronavirus, the heath district said in a news release.

The testing is done to determine who has COVID-19 and has been exposed to it to separate residents potentially capable of spreading the coronavirus.

As of Monday, the health district reported the number of coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck increased to 23, which included an additional six nursing home residents. The deaths reported occurred from April 24 to May 15, according to the health district.

No coronavirus-associated deaths have been reported in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

TWO EXPERT ADVISERS to Lamont — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former bioethics chief for the National Institutes of Health — offered opinions Tuesday backing his reopening strategy.

Gottlieb and Emanuel said the four-stage plan they helped develop for the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group is balanced, but not risk free.

“I think we are striking a prudent balance here against the risk of COVID and COVID resurgence and getting to a point where we have lowered the risk enough that we can offset the other risks that we’re taking from the economic impact,” Gottlieb said.

The two experts said Connecticut can expect to see flare-ups of COVID-19 as commerce and social life gradually resume, but they also believe the state is positioned to track developments in the pandemic and respond to them.

Emanuel and Gottlieb said as good as they believe the state protocols are the public still has to feel comfortable and safe enough to patronize businesses, and that is going to likely take time.

“Remember, a lot of this is about the demand,” Emanuel said. “A restaurant can open, but if people aren’t willing to go and sit outside and get served, there is not a lot of economic activity that’s going to happen, and you have to reassure the public that they are not going to get sick and contract COVID by engaging in commerce.”

LAMONT ISSUED AN EXECUTIVE ORDER on Monday night that authorized municipalities and local health departments to shut down businesses that violate reopening rules until violations are corrected.

There also could be other repercussions, including possible criminal arrest for violating the governor’s March 10 declarations of public health and civil preparedness emergencies. The order Monday also extends the current five-person limit for social and recreational gatherings until June 20.

Lamont also prohibited day camps that were not already operating on May 5 from opening until June 22. He additionally barred residential summer camps.

The order sets July 6 as the starting date for summer school programs, subject to Department of Education guidance.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.