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Gov. Ned Lamont at Gay City State Park (ctnewsjunkie photo)

HEBRON, CT – With a pond as his backdrop Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont reflected on how far the state has come in trying to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and how far it still has to go to reopen the economy.

At Gay City State Park, Lamont welcomed reporters to his Thursday briefing in advance of signing his 45th executive order since March 10.

The order allows the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to reimburse people who had rented state park property for camping or a special event.

State campsites won’t reopen until June 12, and inland swimming areas at state parks will remain closed because of the potential for crowding on their relatively small beaches.

Beaches along Long Island Sound will open today and beachgoers are expected to keep 15 feet between blankets or chairs as a safe buffer between themselves and other beachgoers.

Lamont said he was struck reading a New York Times news story on Thursday that said if New York City had implemented social distancing just two weeks earlier, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved, according to disease modelers from Columbia University.

In Connecticut, “our testing is still at a run rate of about 42,000 a week,” Lamont said.

Hospitalizations, which is a number the governor watches closely, were down to 816 on Thursday. Lab-confirmed cases were up about 191, bringing the infection rate to around 3.6%.  Deaths increased by 53, bringing the number of COVID-19-related deaths to 3,582.

When it comes to the infection rate, “today is the best day we’ve had in at least two months,” Lamont said.

Lamont said they were swift to close down the state, especially the “indoor activities because the indoor activities [are] where the infection rate is the most severe.”

That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t want the two tribal casinos to open on June 1. However, he doesn’t have a lot of say in what happens with them since they are sovereign nations.

Lamont said asking the casinos to wait to reopen is a position that’s based on science.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of making sure politics takes a backseat to science on this,” Lamont said.

That said, spray-painted signs lined the road to Gay City State Park on Thursday that said, “Ned Hitler” and “Stop Ned.”

About 300 hair stylists and barbers protested Lamont’s decision this week to push back their opening until June 1. At least one hairdresser has sued the governor after opening Wednesday in defiance of his executive orders.

Thursday also marked the second time the state has failed to provide nursing-home specific numbers on schedule. Officials said the state computer outage this week made collecting the data difficult and caused delays. The numbers are expected to be out later today.

Asked if he has done enough for the nursing home population, Lamont said his biggest regret regarding nursing homes is that when they started testing they had to wait four or five days for the results.

“By then it was late,” Lamont said.

Several nursing homes have been given corrective action plans by the state because, among other things, they failed to properly separate the COVID-positive residents from those who were negative.

Lamont issued his first social distancing order on March 12 limiting public gatherings to less than 250 people. Four days later he banned visitors from entering nursing homes, closed indoor eateries, and banned gatherings of more than 50 people.

This week, restaurants were allowed to begin offering outdoor service.

“I think day one went pretty well,” Lamont said, adding that he thought restaurants handled the reopening well.

Contributed photo
Wood-n-Tap (Contributed photo)

Phil Barnett, co-owner/founder of the Hartford Restaurant Group (HRG) that operates eight Wood-n-Tap restaurants in the region, said things were going well on the first day of reopening.

Wood-n-Tap restaurants in Farmington and Newington began outdoor dining service Wednesday in tent and patio seating areas where diners used disposable containers and utensils. Barnett said they are soliciting feedback from customers about what experience would make them more comfortable.

On Thursday, the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles announced that as the state continues responding to the COVID-19 pandemic it was enacting another 90-day extension for Connecticut residents with expiring credentials. Eligible DMV credentials that expire between March 10, 2020, and June 30, 2020, are automatically covered by this extension.

Lamont did not schedule any briefings on Friday or Monday and said he expects the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Committee report to be available next week.