At his press conference Monday, April 19, Gov. Ned Lamont announced plans to make major changes in the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, timed to coincide with the May 20 scheduled end to his executive orders.

Beginning Saturday, May 1, Connecticut will begin to gradually ease up on restrictions to, as Lamont put it, “slowly, cautiously, safely, reopen our economy.” Many of the changes are targeted to helping the restaurant industry as well as other businesses that have limited the number of customers or clients that can be served at the same time.

Changes that will start on Saturday, May 1 include:

  • Extending curfew from 11 p.m. to midnight (which Lamont said would allow restaurants to offer second seatings)
  • Bars can serve alcohol outside without food service; indoor service of alcohol only is still prohibited.
  • No restrictions on table size or numbers of people at one outdoor table; limits for indoor tables remain at an eight-person maximum.

Beginning Wednesday, May 19, Lamont said “all remaining business restrictions” would end, and mandates on social distancing would be eliminated. The CT Department of Public Health will issue new guidance for capacity at indoor and outdoor events.

“Social distancing will be relaxed, there’ll be guidance, it’ll be up to you in your restaurant, how you want to do it and keep people safe,” he said, adding that both curfews and caps on movie theater capacity would be eliminated completely.

Lamont did say wearing masks indoors was still “strongly recommended,” although he seemed difficult to pin down definitively on whether a mask mandate might still be an option.

“Whether it’s a mandate or guidance, I’ll figure that out with the legislature in the next few weeks,” he told reporters, adding that he also encouraged businesses to consider their own restrictions.

“Businesses have all the freedom in the world to do everything they can to give their customers confidence, 100% confidence. And if they want to have a mask requirement, if they want people to get tested, if they want to say vaccinations, that’s up to the business, that’s up to the venue. What we have is a set of minimum requirements, which we think are necessary to keep the state of Connecticut safe,” he said.

Lamont does think indoor masking mandates will continue for places like grocery stores after May 19, but still wants legislators “to have their weigh in on that,” leaving the question still up in the air despite several reporters trying to pin him down to a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

The decision to roll back restrictions was made just this past Sunday, with what Lamont said was a very limited group of advisors. Only CT DPH acting commissioner Dr. Deirdre Gifford and Department of Economic and Community Development chair David Lehman met with Lamont and the governor’s Chief of Staff Paul Mounds and CT Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe before the governor made the call.

The rollbacks are contingent on Lamont seeing continued progress in COVID case metrics, including low test-positivity rates and declining hospitalizations, as well as the steadily rising vaccination rate across the state.

“I think these are all ways that we’ve earned the right to get back to our new normal,” Lamont added.

The state’s test positivity rate does continue to be low, at 2.68%. There were 19 new deaths over the weekend, which pushed the total number of CT residents who have died from COVID-19 related causes above 8,000 since the start of the pandemic.

The governor touted the progress the state has made with vaccinating residents, especially for the age group of people age 65-and-above; Lamont said that 88% of that cohort has received at least the first dose. In addition, 61% of adults over 18-years-old have received the first dose.

“Right now I feel very confident that we’re doing the right thing because over the last one month, two months, and even longer than that, we’ve been on a pretty steady path of more and more people getting vaccinated and us keeping the infection rate under control,” Lamont said.

Given the success Lamont sees in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, he says he also would support legislation that is currently making its way through the CT general assembly eliminating the religious exemption for vaccines.

“We have learned over and over again over the last six months that vaccinations work, vaccinations keep me safe, keep you safe, keep my classroom safe and prevent replications of other variants out there. So it’s really important. Look, people deserve a medical exemption, I understand that, some people are at risk if they get vaccinated. Otherwise, I’m ready to support that bill,” Lamont said.