HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut will move into Phase 3 of its reopening plan on Oct. 8, permitting businesses like restaurants to increase the capacity of customers allowed indoors to 75%, but leaving bars closed, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.

The change represents the third step in lifting restrictions imposed by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19. Lamont had previously scheduled the move to Phase 3 in July, but decided to postpone it. Now that schools and colleges have been in operation for three weeks and the state’s rate of new infection has held near 1 percent, Lamont said it was time.

“Connecticut has earned it in terms of being able to maintain our low infection rates,” he said. “I wanted to see what the impact of schools and in particular, colleges might be. Now it’s almost a month later. I think we have a pretty good sense of where we’re headed and I thought that’s why now.”

Colder weather has also forced the state to reevaluate earlier efforts to encourage outdoor consumer activity, he said. 

The new rules will ease gathering limitations from 50% capacity to 75% for many businesses including restaurants, hair salons, barbershops, and libraries. Lamont left intact safety requirements like wearing masks and distancing in public. He also encouraged restaurants to install Plexiglas partitions to help reduce spread of the virus.

Phase 3 will allow outdoor event venues like race tracks and sporting venues to increase their capacity from 25% to 50%. Indoor performing arts venues will also be permitted to open at 50% capacity. Meanwhile, the cap on indoor social gatherings at commercial establishments will increase from 25 to 100 people. The cap for outdoor events will move from 100 to 150 people.

That means that banquet facilities can start booking events like weddings again.

Lamont said bars and nightclubs would remain closed “for reasons I think most people understand.”

Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, called the new restrictions “another important step” in the state’s response to the virus.

“Like the rest of the country, Connecticut is not out of the woods of this pandemic by any stretch, but we’ve proven that it’s possible to be mindful of our local economy at the same time we keep our residents as safe as possible,” Dolch said.

Dolch and restaurant owners in Connecticut have said their bigger fear is not being able to fill the seats inside the restaurants because customers lack confidence to dine inside.

“Making the public feel comfortable, that’s the big thing because you know, you take West Hartford for example, they have the streets blocked off but once the cold weather sets in or if there is a rain day certainly it wouldn’t help anybody if people don’t want to come indoors,” Helmar Wolf, owner of Mill Restaurant Group, said Wednesday.

Scott Smith, vice president of Max Restaurant Group, said that at the moment, while the weather is nice, customers are choosing to sit outside.

“Given a choice, people would rather sit outside but if they want immediate seating most people will still choose inside,” Smith said.