HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Restaurants can begin offering service in outdoor dining areas Wednesday as part of the first phase of Connecticut’s statewide reopening, including in hard-hit Fairfield County on the New York state line.
Gov. Ned Lamont and some eatery owners have said they will be wary of customers visiting from nearby sections of New York, where restaurants among other businesses remain closed.
While infection rates have been declining, the southwestern part of the state was affected by an outbreak in the greater New York City area worse than any other in the country. Fairfield County has had 122 deaths associated with COVID-19 per every 100,000 residents, compared with 119 fatalities per 100,000 in Manhattan, according to state figures.
Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo said most people are looking forward to getting back at least a little sense of normalcy.
“There are varying degrees of concern about health,” he said. “It’s not just, ’Let’s reopen and flip the switch.′ But business owners are itching to open up and I think people are itching to get out and grab something to eat outside and maybe buy something from a vendor.”
Matt Storch, the owner of two Fairfield County restaurants, said after going over the logistics and finances, he came to the conclusion that it just doesn’t make sense to open the Match Restaurant in South Norwalk and Match Burger Lobster in Westport — at least not yet.
“I’m questioning whether or not I take the expense to purchase all the tables and umbrellas and the signage needed,” he said. “It’s a hefty out-of-pocket expense and I’m trying to conserve as much capital as I can.”
He said he’s also not convinced that being open during a holiday weekend would be safe for his staff, with people potentially coming in large numbers including from neighboring New York.
At a news conference last week, Lamont, a Democrat, said there was a desire to avoid traffic across state lines for restaurants and bars.
“I’m going to watch that like a hawk,” he said.
Under the state guidelines, restaurateurs who decide to open must print out disposable menus or have the options posted on boards, silverware must be packaged or rolled up, and patrons must abide social distancing.
Malls and stores also can welcome customers, but seating areas, food courts and fitting rooms must remain closed and there must be separate entrances and exits, barriers at checkout and and signs or tape to keep shoppers 6-feet apart. More offices can also open, but Lamont is urging people to continue to work from home, if possible.
In other coronavirus-related developments around Connecticut:
Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, is taking issue with comments made by one of Lamont’s informal reopening advisers, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, calling them “profoundly offensive and uninformed.”
During Lamont’s daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, Emanuel said he would be “personally nervous” about reopening casinos now and suggested focusing on “employment, economic impact and reduced public health impact” when deciding the “sweet spot” for what to reopen.
“You want to find those businesses that match that or create an environment that matches that. You’re not moving gambling outside,” said Emanuel, who acknowledged being unaware of the particular safety steps planned by Connecticut’s two tribal casinos.
Rodney Butler, the tribal chairman, said in a written statement that “one need only look at the tragic map depicting the disproportionate share of unemployed in eastern and southeastern Connecticut” to understand the economic impact of closing Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun. Combined, they employ more than 10,000 people.
“As leaders of our tribal government, the public safety and well-being of the populations we serve is paramount,” Butler said. “We, too, have the best and brightest advising us on how to safely and responsibly restart our facilities. To suggest otherwise conveys a level of disrespect that is insulting.”
Cromwell leaders have voted to ask Lamont to allow businesses in town to open immediately, instead of abiding by the governor’s orders for a phased-in approach that began Wednesday.
The town council voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct the town attorney to draft a resolution making the request.
Mayor Enzo Faienza said local, small businesses have been devastated by the state’s coronavirus-related closure orders, while large retail chain stores have been allowed to stay open. He said businesses should be allowed to reopen if they follow state guidelines.
Faienza called for the town council meeting in response to a last-minute order by Lamont on Monday that barbershops and hair salons would no longer be on the list of businesses allowed to reopen beginning Wednesday. The governor delayed the opening of those shops until June 1.
Lamont said Tuesday that he is working closely with cities and towns and wants them to continue following orders to ensure public health and safety.
State officials on Wednesday announced restrictions at state parks as summer approaches.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said swimming will be allowed at state beaches on the shoreline when they reopen Friday, but swimming areas at inland state parks will be closed. Officials cited the limited size of the beach and swim areas at inland parks and social distancing rules.
Visitors to shoreline beaches must keep their blanket and chair areas a minimum of 15 feet from other beachgoers, allowing for a 6-foot radius around each person and a 3-foot walkway between groups.
Officials will limit parking at shoreline beaches and close them if social distancing rules are not followed. Visitors should wear masks whenever they are near other people, but officials say masks should not be worn in the water. Lifeguards will not be on duty this early in the season.
Campgrounds will remain closed until at least June 11.