Reopen Connecticut: Phase 3 begins today

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Thursday, October 8, 2020
Reopen Connecticut: Phase 3 begins today
Marcus Solis reports on Connecticut's third reopening phase, set to begin Thursday.

HARTFORD, Connecticut -- Connecticut's third reopening phase is set to begin Thursday, a milestone during the coronavirus pandemic that is getting a lukewarm reception from some business owners and arts aficionados.

A number of restaurant owners say they won't be able to reach the new 75% capacity limit for indoor dining because they don't have the space, primarily due to the requirement that tables be at least 6 feet apart. The indoor capacity maximum is being increased from 50%.

Indoor performing arts venues will be allowed to open beginning Thursday at 50% capacity, while outdoor event venues will be allowed to increase their capacity from 25% to 50%, with required masks and social distancing at all locations. But many theaters and concert venues have decided not to open this week, as shows already have been canceled and many say they can't make money with half-full facilities.

"If we do 6 feet between people, we're actually at less than 20% capacity," Cynthia Rider, the managing director at Hartford Stage, said Wednesday. "So the rules don't allow us to open in any way that's financially feasible. We also can't do 6 feet of social distancing backstage. I think for most producing and presenting theaters, the new guidelines just aren't there yet for us. But we hope people will go to some of the venues that are able to reopen."

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The Phase 3 reopening comes as Connecticut has seen a slight uptick in coronavirus cases. Nearly 140 people were hospitalized as of Wednesday, up from 50 from a month ago and the highest number since late June. The positive test rate for the virus was less than 1% over most of the summer, but has edged up to around 1.5% recently.

More than 59,000 people in the state have tested positive and more than 4,500 have died from the virus.

Under the new reopening phase, restaurants are required to keep groups of diners 6 feet apart or separated by partitions of plexiglass or other materials. Capacity at libraries and businesses that provide personal services, such as hair salons, will also increase from 50% to 75%.

Indoor social gatherings at commercial establishments will be limited to 100 people or 50% capacity while gatherings at private residences will continue to be capped at 25. Graduations and religious gatherings will be capped at 200 people or 50% capacity, with masks and social distancing. Most stand-alone bars and nightclubs remain shuttered.

Gina Legnani-Pellrine, owner of Rodd's Restaurant in Bristol, said she doesn't have the room in her breakfast-and-lunch establishment to get to 75% capacity. She has put up wood partitions separating her booths, but they are often occupied by one person because she hasn't been able to reopen her counter area due to virus-related restrictions.

"It won't help me get more people in. It won't help me seat more people," she said of the higher capacity limit. "But it might help people in their minds think, 'Well, they relaxed the restrictions. Maybe we can go.' But there are also a lot of people who are reluctant."

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Dozens of restaurants around the state have closed because of the virus and the related state operating restrictions, said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association. He said the new capacity limits are a good step forward, but many restaurants don't have room to boost capacity amid the 6-foot separation requirement.

The recent uptick in virus cases recently prompted Foxwoods Resort Casino to announce that it will continue operating at 25% capacity.

Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday said the state will give 65 libraries $2.6 million from Connecticut's coronavirus relief funds to help them increase services, particularly to low-income communities, as they are being allowed to boost capacity to 75% beginning Thursday.

In other virus-related developments, the University of New Haven has placed a dormitory under quarantine after several people tested positive, including someone who attended a large, unauthorized gathering last weekend, school officials said.

The school notified residents of Winchester Hall on Tuesday that they must isolate in their rooms for 14 days.

"We have taken this step, out of an abundance of caution, while COVID-19 cases are still quite low, to mitigate the risk of further spread," school officials said in a notification to students.

The West Haven school had 280 students in quarantine as of Tuesday, including all residents of Winchester Hall and some students in other dorms.

Officials said the school has comprehensive public health measures in place and any violations - including attending large unauthorized gatherings - could result in suspension, expulsion from campus housing or dismissal from the school.


Associated Press writers Susan Haigh and Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.

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