christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie

HARTFORD, CT – As the COVID-19 situation continues, Gov. Ned Lamont used his emergency powers to close all schools until March 31 and will make a decision on whether to close restaurants and bars tomorrow.

“A vast majority of our schools have already closed,” Lamont said Sunday at a press briefing in the back yard of the governor’s mansion.

The total number of residents who tested positive for COVID-19 was 26 as of Sunday night.

Lamont said they worry about the impact of school closures on communities and families. He said they’re also working with Internet Service Providers to make sure nobody is “on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said his department is working on getting distance learning plans out to all school districts to share with their students.

“We’re going to make sure that education doesn’t stop because of this. It’s just going to look different,” Cardona said. “The way it looks going forward is probably going to influence how education looks forever.”

Lamont’s new executive order stops short of a state-ordered quarantine, but he strongly urged people to stay away from groups and to avoid nonessential travel.

“If you love grandpa, don’t go visit him. Teach him how to FaceTime,” Lamont said, referring to the videocall option on many smartphones.

Lamont said he knows it’s easy not to take this as “seriously as you could, or fear that perhaps we’re overreacting, but I want you to err on the side of an abundance of caution.”

Restaurants

On Sunday, both Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered bars and restaurants closed.

Lamont said Connecticut is a small state so it’s good to work with other states on a decision as big as closing restaurants and bars.

Lamont said he has scheduled a conference call Monday with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy about whether they should close bars and restaurants.

Asked if he is going to recommend to the other two governors that restaurants and bars be closed, he said, “I want to do something with them and I think it makes a lot of sense. Hopefully, it doesn’t go on for long, but it makes some sense to me.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, appearing on NBC Boston, ordered bars, restaurants, and nightclubs to cut their capacities in half by removing tables and chairs to encourage social distancing.

Phil Barnett, from the Hartford Restaurant Group that operates 10 restaurants including Wood-n-Tap and QUE Whiskey Kitchen, said they’ve been watching the situation very closely and understand that the safety of the community and their staff is their number one concern.

He said he hopes if Lamont does ban table service in restaurants that he will still allow for takeout and curbside pick up.

In the meantime, Barnett said they are donating 10% of all their gift card sales to FoodShare.

Lamont encouraged residents to purchase gift cards to their local restaurants to help them out during this difficult time.

Barnett admitted that sales are down and he doesn’t want to lay people off, but he also wants to make sure his staff is safe.

Barnett is hoping restaurants will be allowed to apply for help from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

On Sunday, Lamont also submitted a request to the U.S. Small Business Administration, asking the federal agency to issue a declaration that will enable Connecticut’s small business owners to receive economic injury disaster loans. If approved, the emergency assistance will enable the owners to seek some financial relief as the global pandemic is causing significant distress to many businesses in the state.

The executive order Lamont signed Sunday also prohibits the public from going to the Department of Motor Vehicles, limits visits to psychiatric facilities, and extends deadlines for municipal budgets and regional school boards.