As Connecticut moved into Phase 3 of its reopening Thursday, the state reported a new outbreak in New London and Gov. Ned Lamont signaled he was considering a more localized approach to safety guidelines.
The new phase eases gathering restrictions on restaurants from 50% to 75% capacity and allows outdoor sports venues and indoor performing arts venues to open at 50%. Churches and other religious houses will also be allowed to open at 50% capacity.
While Connecticut’s rate of new infection remains relatively low at 1.4%, the move comes the same day as the Department of Public Health issued a COVID-19 alert for New London where 115 new cases were reported between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3.
In light of this outbreak and previous flare-ups in Danbury and Norwich, Lamont said he expects to issue an executive order permitting towns with high infection rates to opt out of Phase 3 and reassert more restrictive safety rules.
“We’ve found that a lot of these flare-ups are sort of town by town,” Lamont said during a Thursday press briefing. “So I think we’re going to make a decision over the next few days whether to give towns that discretion not to move to Phase 3, stay at 50%. Just like they’ve had the discretion to keep their schools open or move to all distance learning.”
For the time being, the whole state, including towns with high infection rates, has moved into Phase 3. Lamont said he was considering drafting an executive order early next week that would apply to towns with a daily case rate of 15 or more per 100,000. He said he would leave the decision whether to scale back the reopening up to the town’s elected executive.
Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said many of the recent spikes have been localized in the southeastern region of the state.
“We are seeing that some of the increases are pretty localized and we’re not seeing generalized uptick in cases across the state,” she said. “There’s some logic to having a more localized approach to some of these changes in the phases.”
But the approach represents a departure for the governor, who has up until now preferred to set statewide policy with regard to the opening of businesses. He said early in the pandemic that a statewide approach was needed because so many businesses were completely closed.
“Early on we were trying to make sure that everybody didn’t want to drive from Darien to Willimantic to get a scotch and soda. We thought that would not be good in terms of having some places where the bar is open and other places where the bar is closed. This is a very different situation,” he said.
Lamont has said that he would consider halting Phase 3 for the entire state if Connecticut’s infection rate reached 4% or 5%. Since Wednesday, the state has seen 384 new cases and five new COVID-related deaths. Ten fewer people were hospitalized as a result of the virus in Connecticut.