HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Many Connecticut stores, attractions and restaurants aren’t planning to immediately set up shop Wednesday when some restrictions are lifted in the first phase of Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to reopen the state from its COVID-19 shutdown.
The state will allow the reopening of outdoor dining areas, offices, retail shops and malls, museums and zoos, and outdoor recreation businesses — all with social distancing requirements.
Scott Dolch, the executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said he expects only about 25% of the state’s restaurants will have the ability to offer the outdoor-only service.
He said many are weighing the financial benefits of having just a few outside tables open, with seating limited to parties of five or fewer, against costs such as buying patio furniture and umbrellas. Others are still waiting for municipalities to finalize plans for street closures or get needed approvals to use parking lots and other non-traditional spaces for dining.
“This is about survival right now,” he said. “This isn’t about a business model to make money in any capacity. This is about deciding what it looks like for your restaurant and what it might look like in 30 days or 90 days from now.”
Max Restaurant Group founder and president Richard Rosenthal said all but one of his seven Connecticut restaurants will open on Wednesday, even though the most prudent thing to do financially would be to stay closed. He said Max Downtown in Hartford will remain shuttered, because they could not figure out a viable outdoor seating plan.
“We want to be open,” he said. “We want to be relevant. We want to be on people’s mind. We want to see our regulars. It just feels like we should be open.”
He said he and other restaurant owners are desperately hoping for a warm and dry May and June. He’s also hoping the businesses and offices around his restaurants begin to reopen, to provide a customer base.
The Mystic Seaport Museum, which replicates a working 19th-century seafaring village, will start allowing tourists back on Saturday with free admission. But nobody will be allowed inside the buildings or onto the boats and tall ships, including the Mayflower II.
There won’t be the usual demonstrations and exhibits, but people will be allowed to walk around the village and the museum’s 19 acres of waterfront, said Dan McFadden, the museum’s spokesman.
Officials are still working out how to handle logistics, such as lines at the restrooms, where only one family will be allowed in at a time.
The Seaport has estimated it could have 800 visitors and still be able to maintain social distancing, but plans to cap visitation for the time being with at 250 people and re-evaluate staffing and programming later in June.
“We are going to see how people behave and what people do and want to do while they are there,” he said.
The Shoppes at Buckland Hills, a mall in Manchester, will open on Wednesday. But General Manager Virginia Pepe said some stores are still in the process of training staff and implementing all the social-distancing guidelines, such as making separate entrances and exits and putting up Plexiglas at the checkouts.
“The feedback from some retailers is they might not open with us Wednesday, but they will be open by the weekend or even next week,” she said.
There have been nearly 38,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, resulting in 3,472 deaths — an increase of 23 since Monday. Testing continues to increase as hospitalizations continue to decrease.
“These are trend lines that I think give us some confidence that what we’re trying to do tomorrow, with our slow and methodical reopening, the timing is right. We’ve hit the key metrics that we thought we would,” Lamont said.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a Connecticut resident who appeared on Lamont’s daily briefing said he also believes the state is at the point where it can “contemplate a thoughtful staged reopening of the economic activity, having been successful in flattening the curve.” He said it’s now time to move from “population-based mitigation” to targeting the virus by identifying infected people, getting them tested, and reaching out to anyone they came in contact with and helping them self-isolate. He said it’s important to make sure that testing positive doesn’t become “a punitive thing.”
For most people, the virus that has swept the globe causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
The governor issued an executive order Monday night extending a ban on large gatherings and keeping restrictions on off-track betting, indoor fitness studios and movie theaters until possibly June 20, at the earliest. Lamont said he plans to keep tabs over the coming weeks on how many people are following social distancing rules, such as wearing masks, as well as infection and hospitalization rates, before making a final decision.
“I think it’s too early to say what’s gong to happen on the (June) 20th,” Lamont said.
Lamont’s latest order also allows police, local and district health directors, and municipal leaders to enforce restrictions on this week’s partial reopening.
Additionally, the order allows day camps to begin operating June 22 but prohibits residential or sleepover camps from operating during the duration of the public health emergency. Day camps must follow health and safety requirements, including limits on the number of children that can gather in groups and stricter health and sanitation practices.
Summer school and other educational programs operated by local or regional school boards may not begin until July 6, with some exceptions.
The governor delayed the opening of hair salons, which had been expected to be part of Wednesday’s reopening, until early June.