Gov. Lamont: Focused on May 20 Start to Gradual Reopening

At Thursday’s press briefing, Gov. Ned Lamont was focused on May 20 as a starting point for Connecticut to begin a gradual reopening.

He is eyeing some businesses, restaurants,  limited personal services and outdoor recreation, as “…we try and work our way through a reasonable schedule that keeps us safe and gets our economy going,” he said.

Lamont talked about the required benchmarks that were important to hit before reopening would be possible, as priorities and criteria that the reopening advisory board has established.

“First of all, the 14-day declining hospitalization, we’re on that metric right now. Number two is increased testing. We’ve talked about that broadly, but I want you to know this is not something for me to take lightly; this is not something for the business community to take lightly. It is absolutely vital as you look at what’s going on in Germany and other places with a slight resurgence if we’re not absolutely careful,” he said.

Ramping up testing and contact tracing will be vital, especially in high-risk and harder-hit populations like African-American and urban communities.

Testing is still hovering around 2,000 tests per day; Dr. Albert Ko, co-chair of the Reopening CT Advisory Group, said the goal is conducting about 6,000 tests per day to proceed with confidence.

“That also allows us to learn whether by loosening up these restrictions while at the same time enforcing strong social distancing that we can actually, whether we’re going to have a bump or resurgence or so forth. So that’s an important thing that we’re all working towards implementing very quickly in the next three weeks,” Ko said.

Getting adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gowns available to the public and businesses will also be critical, LmONR said.

“Expansion of the ability to provide those masks to more and more stores, more and more employees, more and more factories is key to our opening strategy, and appropriate physical distancing, those regulations store by store and industry by industry,” he said, noting that various industry group are working with state officials.

“It’s not a state government sitting here saying these are the protocols that we think are best for you. We’ve got the restaurant association, the retail association, the hospitality [association], all coming to us with really thoughtful ideas on how they can keep their employees safe as well as their customers safe,” Lamont said.

Part of Lamont’s consideration on what to reopen first includes the unemployment numbers.

“You want to know where the other half of our unemployed come from. They come from a group that represents just 10% of our economy. That’s the service economy. Those are restaurants, salons, bars, and such. Those are very people-intensive. So whether or not they’re a big piece of our overall economy, they were an enormous piece of our unemployment rate. And that’s the group that we’re going to talk about, in particular today, as we slowly phase them back into the workforce starting on May 20,” he said.

Lamont said determining whether a sector will be allowed to open involved ranking what behaviors can be done safely and scoring health risks on a number of factors:  contact proximity–how close people are and how much social distancing is possible; contact length–how long contact is between people; number of contacts–how many different people are in contact over the course of a day; contact location–indoor vs. outdoor;  disinfection–how often can disinfecting protocols be executed; social distancing rules– how safely social distance be maintained.

Lamont said reopening will be focused on industry and sectors, with an eye toward consumer use.

“Well over 60% of our economy is already open–manufacturing essential retail, real estate, utilities, construction, childcare, daycare, and hospitals. Although some are not operating at full capacity right now, which is why it’s so important that we give people the confidence that they can go back when it is safe for them to go back,” he said.

Restaurants are a key sector for Lamont as a big part of the service economy, with deciding about reopening a mixed bag. “I know what that means in terms of employment. I know what that means in terms of bringing our cities back to life. And I also know what it means in terms of a virus spread,” he said, noting that he’ll be keeping an eye on other states that have begun reopening, including Georgia and Oklahoma.

The remaining retail Lamont said officials are looking at reopening are what he refers to as “main street” stores. Allowing more outdoor recreation will also be important.

He got a little more ‘folksy’ talking about the need to open up personal services. “I know how important hair barbers, salons, nails are. I know it’s been a long time. I know it’s getting a little awkward. I also know that it’s tougher to enforce social distancing in an environment like that, but based upon what we see in Georgia and other places, people aren’t flooding in, people are doing it by appointment.”

Lamont’s advisors plan on devising protocols to get that sector started up “on a limited basis” starting on May 20 as well.

He said that next week he’ll report on schools and other social gatherings.

Other key points Lamont and his advisors made:

  • Based on age, the recommendation for seniors above 70 years old will still be to shelter in place. Similar recommendations stand for anyone with underlying conditions. Specific recommendations for behavior will be developed for these groups.
  • Social distancing and limited contact will continue for a long time, according to Ko. “Even with our best public health prevention and control management, we’re always going to have the threat of resurgence, and we’re going to have to come up with better means of prevention and control–therapeutics or medications, and vaccines. And those are going to take time–one or one and a half years from now,” he said, adding that social distancing will “continue through the summer and it’s going to continue until we have a better mech mechanisms or interventions to, to stop this virus.”
  • Specific directions and protocols on social distancing will be provided for businesses, according to Indra Nooyi, the other co-chair of the Reopen CT Advisory Group.
  • Lamont’s team is being cautious and non-committal about reopening venues and events where social distancing will be harder, including Hartford Yard Goats’ games and especially casinos. “It’s too early to ask about all of these high contact venues. But more importantly, people come from out of state, remember, to these casinos. People come from Massachusetts and New York. So this could be a prime outbreak spot if we don’t manage it very, very carefully,” Nooyi said.
  • Cooperation from industry and business partners is working, Nooyi said, using malls as an example. “A lot of the businesses have done a lot of this work already. Many office commercial property owners have developed a plan to restack the office with social distancing. We talked to the mall operators, the mall owners, and one of the biggest mall owners said that they’ve taken all their malls around the country and created a grid with social distancing to decide how many people they can allow and how they should manage the traffic through the mall. So I think you’d be surprised how much work people have already done taking into account these hygiene factors so we can learn from them and then make sure it’s adapted for Connecticut from that base of knowledge.”
  • Lamont said coordinating with neighboring states will continue, watching where outbreaks occur and how social distancing is enforced. He also said that policies will be uniform throughout the state.
  • Absentee ballots, at least for the August primary, will be something that gets integrated into the voting procedure. While details are still being worked out, absentee ballots will be an option at least for certain groups (including seniors).