Gov. Ned Lamont announced new rules Thursday limiting private gatherings to 10 people as more than 60% of Connecticut residents now live in municipalities with “red alert” COVID-19 infection rates.
The new restrictions were a response to the second wave of the coronavirus which continued to spread through the state. As of Thursday, the number of towns considered to be highly infected rose from 30 to 68. Roughly 60% of the state’s population lives in those towns, Lamont said.
The governor conceded that the 10-person gathering limitation ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday was a difficult ask, and one the state will rely on residents to enforce on themselves.
“Look, it’s a tough pill to swallow. I get it,” he said. “But do it now. Do it this Thanksgiving. Put up with this a little bit longer and we’re going to be much better off in the long term.”
Lamont and Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford acknowledged the restriction may still be in place through the December holidays. Models of the state’s infection rates predict that levels will continue climbing through the end of the year.
“We tend to let down our guard a little bit in terms of masks and distancing when we’re inside our own homes. We think it will really significantly help our transmission if we limit the gatherings. It’s a painful thing to be discussing at the holidays but it’s a really important step to consider taking given where we are now with the community transmission,” Gifford said.
The restriction will take effect Friday alongside stricter limitations on restaurants, which the governor announced earlier this week. Under the new guidelines, restaurants will be capped at 50% capacity, limited to eight patrons per table, and be required to close dining rooms at 9:30 p.m. if they serve alcohol.
The Public Health Department also issued an alert Thursday asking residents to stay home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
During the press briefing, Lamont ordered new restrictions on high school and youth league sports. The restrictions stop through the end of the year any sport considered to be high-risk for COVID-19 transmission. That means wrestling, 11-on-11 football, boxing and competitive cheer cannot be played between Monday and the end of the year. This includes football being played in private leagues, the governor said.
Medium-risk sports like hockey and basketball can still be played, but players will have to wear masks while playing, the governor said. No sports team should travel out of the state for a tournament or competition, he said.
The restrictions will not impact college and professional sports, which operate with their own safety protocols. However, Paul Mounds, the governor’s chief of staff, said the administration had been notified by University of Connecticut Athletics that a member of the UConn men’s basketball team tested positive for the virus.
“They are taking all the necessary protocols including shutting down their practice facility for cleaning. As you know, the UConn athletics has a very aggressive testing protocol for their student athletes,” Mounds said.
The state’s positivity rate Thursday was at 3.7% and the seven-day average was at 3.5%. Although Lamont said the numbers seem to be levelling off, he still expects them to “bounce around” as time goes on. Another 11 Connecticut residents died as a result of the virus, bringing the state total to 4,656. Meanwhile, six more COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. Currently, 380 people are hospitalized with the virus.