UPDATE:  Gov. Lamont’s changes will become effective on June 1.

On Friday afternoon, May 29, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that he is easing up on his limits for social gatherings, releasing new COVID-19-related guidelines for groups that gather in homes, casinos, houses of worship and other public places.

Previously limiting groups to no more than five people, Lamont now supports larger gatherings of up to 10 people inside and up to 25 people outside, “as long as people follow the [social distancing] protocols.”

“We had probably one of our largest drops in hospitalizations we’ve seen in months–71 fewer hospitalizations. We’re 75% off our peak now,” he said, adding, “The metrics continue in the right direction thanks to what each and every one of you are doing, and that’s why we continue to make these changes.”

Lamont pointed to falling rates of hospitalization, infection and positive cases in relation to testing (positivity), and capacity in the hospitals, as the “science” behind why he decided to relax the restrictions on gathering.

“We thought this was a time where we could open up the lens just a little bit. On the social side, the private side, that’s a little more socialization back and forth. So 25 outside seemed an appropriate number, hopefully stay in smaller groups.  Specifically, as regards to churches, we wanted to put a big emphasis on outside services,” he said.

Lamont said limits were originally set to groups of five to help make contact tracing easier, but he acknowledged that easing up on the guidelines would probably mean better compliance from the public.

“We also want guidance that’s reasonable, enforceable and people believe in,” Lamont told reporters at a briefing.

He called figuring out what to allow for gatherings “both an art and a science.”

Guidelines remain relatively similar to before, however, with Lamont reminding residents of what behavior is considered ‘safer’:  “Outside is safer than inside; younger are much less likely to suffer complications than older; small groups and small gatherings are safer than large groups and large gatherings; and alcohol is not great in any of these contexts,” he said.

Lamont pointed to South Korea and North Carolina as two locations where resurgences of the virus have occurred after restrictions were relaxed there. “This virus is not behind us and rearing its ugly head a second time. So I do feel strongly that we have to be very careful, yet practical in terms of letting people begin to get back to a life that’s different but more normal.”

Casinos to Open Earlier

Lamont said talks about COVID-19 precautions with tribal nation executives at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods showed “progress,” but that the casinos would still open on Saturday, May 30, earlier than he had hoped, and before other casinos in neighboring states or Las Vegas.

“But they took to heart some of the thoughts that we had. We didn’t want to do anything that attracted any of the people from the greater region, and they said they would not allow anybody from out of state to stay at their hotels, at least through Phase 1. They said they would require masks of everyone at the casinos,” Lamont said, adding that at least one of the casinos agreed to prohibit smoking.

He was unable to secure the concession from the casinos that they would refrain from allowing customers to drink alcohol, although executives did say they would limit how much was served. The casinos did agree to serve food only outside the buildings, at least through June 20.

Lamont said the casinos have promised to send advisories to customers entering the premises, noting his concern for people over 65 or with pre-existing conditions like diabetes–something prevalent in the region.

“If it’s not made clear we’ll have some electronic signage that reminds people of the risk they’re taking,” he said.

Faith Communities

Lamont said that the faith community is important during times of need and emotional stress. “We’ve been limited on that, to 50 and a little expansion for outside,” he said. He wanted to allow people, especially older residents, to be able to better access worship.

Now, houses of worship will be allowed to admit up to 25% capacity inside, or up to 100 people, whichever is less. Outdoor worship will be permitted to allow up to 150 people with clear social distancing behavior observed.

“These are the type of things, by working together, that allow people to worship, allow people to get back safely, allow each and every one to go forward.

Lamont hopes to put an emphasis on outside services. Several of the faith leaders at the press briefing described how they will notify their congregational members about social distance protocols and guidelines, including posting notices and sending emails, as well as encouraging members over 65 to stay home.