Connecticut plans to phase out many COVID-19 restrictions affecting businesses next month, including long-shuttered bars, while keeping the mandatory indoor mask-wearing rules in place for now, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Monday.
The announcement came as the state surpassed 8,000 COVID-associated deaths.
Beginning May 1, outdoor restrictions will be lifted on businesses, such as mask-wearing when social distancing can’t be observed. Also, the rule that alcohol can’t be served without food will be lifted, essentially allowing outdoor bar service.
Additionally, table seating outdoors will no longer be limited to eight people and business curfews will be moved back from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m., giving restaurants an opportunity to have a second seating and putting Connecticut on course with New York.
“I think these are all ways we have earned the right to get back to our new normal,” said Lamont, who urged people to still “continue to be cautious with the mask.”
Beginning May 19, all remaining business restrictions will end, including capacity limits on movie theaters and outdoor gatherings. Lamont said he expects the state will issue guidance but it will essentially be left up to the businesses to decide what COVID safety measures to maintain.
“I think 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 to say, ‘I want people to get tested,’ if they want to say, ‘vaccinations,’ that’s up to the business. That’s up to the venue,” Lamont said. “What we have is a set of minimum requirements, which I think are necessary to keep the state of Connecticut safe.”
Meanwhile, indoor bars that don’t serve food will also be allowed to reopen on May 19, but patrons will still need to wear masks when they’re not drinking. Lamont said he needs to work with state lawmakers to determine whether that rule should be mandated or whether it should be guidance issued by the state. Lamont’s executive authority is set to expire on May 20 and efforts are underway to determine which of his executive orders should be extended or set in law.
Lamont stressed that the plan to lift the business restrictions could change if the state’s relatively low infection rate and continued improvements in vaccination rates change.
As of Monday, 1.1 million residents have been fully vaccinated. That figure accounts for 61% of people 18 years and older. Meanwhile, the state continues to see more infections. There were 2,700 more reported since Friday, while the number of hospitalizations increased by eight to 494. The number of deaths increased by 19 to a total of 8,014.
Yale University has joined a growing list of colleges and universities that will require students to received the COVID-19 vaccine before returning in the fall.
University President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel made the announcement Monday in an email to the Yale community, urging students to get inoculated as soon as possible.
“Although the course of the COVID-19 pandemic over the coming months remains uncertain, vaccination is the strongest tool for preventing transmission of the virus,” the officials wrote. “There is abundant evidence of the vaccines’ effectiveness and growing confidence that vaccines will be widely available by early summer.”
Salovey and Strobel said there will be reasonable exceptions made for religious or medical reasons. They said the school will vaccinate any students in the fall who could not get access to the vaccine this summer. The school announced Friday that Yale Health had secured enough doses for all students to receive Pfizer vaccines over the coming weeks.
The school still is evaluating whether to impose a similar mandate on faculty and staff, with a decision expected in June.
Yale’s announcement came the same day that leaders from several other colleges and universities across the state joined Lamont to announce they expect most classes and other activities, including watching sports, will go back to being in-person in the fall.
The leaders said they expect that some protocols, including wearing masks while indoors and staying 3 feet (1 meter) apart in classrooms, will remain in effect.
“We’re going to reduce the restrictions by a longshot, (but) of course we’re the following state guidelines in the fall,” Quinnipiac University President Judy Olian said.
Those leaders said they would be encouraging students staff, and faculty to get vaccinated and will host vaccination clinics, but do not plan to mandate the shots.
Lamont said he approved of that approach.
“We’ll find out later in the year if that’s enough and we’ll be able to make some determinations later,” he said.