Connecticut will reimpose some restrictions on businesses and gatherings, including reducing the capacity in restaurants again, as coronavirus rates increase in the state, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday.
State judicial officials also postponed a plan to resume jury trials.
Lamont, a Democrat, said the latest rules will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, with neighboring Massachusetts likely taking similar steps. He urged people to work from home if possible and suggested that those over age 60 and with chronic medical conditions remain home as much as possible as well.
“We are putting in these restrictions on a statewide basis now to make sure we don’t have to do more severe things later,” said Lamont. The state had allowed leaders of local communities with increased cases of COVID-19 to roll back the state's third phase of reopening.
Restaurants' indoor capacity limit will revert back to 50%, down from 75% under the phase 3 reopening that started last month, with eight people maximum per table. The establishments also will have to close by 9:30 p.m., but can continue takeout and delivery past that time. Officials said it's part of an effort to stop bars from masquerading as restaurants and drawing large crowds. Bars have not been allowed to reopen in Connecticut.
Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said the restriction “presents a renewed challenge” to an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. He said imposing a 9:30 p.m. closing time without offering new grants or forgivable loans “will be the final straw for many Connecticut small businesses already just barely keeping their doors open.”
The state recently unveiled a $50 million grant program to help struggling small businesses, but the amounts are capped at $5,000 each.
“The governor noted that other states are using a similar closing time, but failed to mention that those states also have small business grant programs that dwarf what Connecticut is currently offering,” Dolch said in a written statement.
Also, under Lamont's latest plan, dubbed “Phase 2.1,” religious gatherings will continue to be limited to 50% of a building's capacity, but the restriction on the number of people will decrease from 200 to 100. Lamont encouraged people to participate in virtual services.
The capacity limits for personal services, such as hair salons, will remain at 75%. Performing arts and movie theaters will be limited to 100 people. Event venues will be limited to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
Entertainment venues such as movie theaters, bowling allies and arcades must close by 9:30 p.m.
The latest 14-day average positivity rate for coronavirus tests in Connecticut is about 3%. State health departments are calculating positivity rates differently across the country, but for Connecticut, The Associated Press calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project from Oct. 18-Nov. 1.
Lamont said the number of cases has been rising steadily, including a one-day positive test rate of 6.1% on Thursday. Friday’s rate was back down to 2.5%. Monday’s rate, which includes data from over the weekend, was 3.4% The rate had been below 1% over the summer.
Connecticut also continues to see an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. There were 340 people in the state hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, the most since early June. The state also reported 11 more virus-related deaths since Friday, bringing the state’s total during the pandemic to 4,627. More than 73,800 people in the state have tested positive.
Meanwhile in the court system, jury selection for trials was scheduled to resume Monday after an eight-month hiatus due to the virus, under a plan announced last month by Chief Justice Richard Robinson. But that has been put on hold indefinitely and will be reassessed weekly, said Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokesperson for the Judicial Branch.
“While our goal has been to resume jury trials on Monday, Nov. 2, the recent increase in positive test results statewide has caused us to pause the process so we may continue to reassess what we can safely do under these challenging circumstances,” she said in a statement.
The court system has been conducting many proceedings, including criminal arraignments and civil case status conferences by video conference. It has been taking steps to resume jury trials including installing protective barriers and acquiring adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, Stearley-Hebert said.
Other new virus restrictions include basketball games at the University of Connecticut's Gampel Pavilion. Fans are not allowed at games, only the families of the athletes and coaches, the university said, citing health and safety needs. It said options for season ticket holders are expected to be announced in the coming days.
Additionally, Hartford Public Schools announced Monday that it plans to shift to a hybrid learning model, beginning the week of Nov. 16. Pre-kindergarten through ninth grade will have students in school two days a week and learning remotely the other three days. Tenth through 12 grade students will learn remotely. The students have been attending school in person.