Connecticut officials plan to lift the public health restriction capping at 100 the number of people allowed inside a house of worship, Gov. Ned Lamont said during a Thursday coronavirus press briefing.
The announcement came as the governor released statistics suggesting a continued drop in the instances of COVID-19 in Connecticut. Amid an expanding effort to vaccinate the public, the state’s infection rate stood at 3.55%, the lowest in months. It was not a one-day anomaly. Lamont said the average infection rate for the week was near 4.4%.
And while an additional 44 COVID-related fatalities pushed the state over yet another somber milestone — the deaths of more than 7,000 Connecticut residents due to the virus — several key indicators seemed to be trending in a positive direction. The number of people hospitalized with the virus dropped under 1,000 for the first time this year and Lamont said there was ample capacity at area hospitals.
Asked about the state’s death toll, which now stands at 7,020, the governor said it was “frustrating as heck” but fatalities often lag behind other indicators of change in the virus situation.
“Hospitalizations are down, vaccinations are up. It’s breaking my heart. We ought to be bending this curve very, very soon. And it’s not Connecticut, it’s happening in 49 other states as well. Those fatalities are still cresting,” he said.
The governor suggested his decision to lift the cap on religious services was motivated in part by legal efforts in other states to strike down similar restrictions. He also said the increasing number of older adults vaccinated against the virus meant that attending a worship service was becoming safer. As of Thursday, 299,876 Connecticut residents had received at least their first dose. Many of those people were nursing home residents or people 75 years old or older.
The governor did suggest that it would be safer if older residents who have not yet been vaccinated wait until they are before they attend large church services.
“Houses of worship attract particularly vulnerable populations. Folks who are older. So personally speaking, from a point of view of public health, another few weeks, we’d have a lot more people vaccinated. It’d be a lot safer,” Lamont said. “That said, let’s lift that numerical cap, let’s do it now but if you haven’t been vaccinated, it’s probably better to stay home for a little bit longer if you’re of a certain age.”
Houses of worship will likely remain somewhat restricted. In addition to the 100-person cap, the state imposes a 50% capacity restriction to encourage social distancing. Lamont said he would present “clear guidance” on plans to ease the public health restrictions during his next briefing on Monday.
The upcoming change was welcome news to the Connecticut Catholic Conference, which released a statement calling it an “important first step.” The group said its churches have worked hard to observe public health guidelines to ensure safe worship.
“Social distancing, the wearing of masks, the cleaning of churches, and protocols about things like music and the reception of communion have all contributed to help ensure a safe environment. Infections and related problems in our parishes have been minimal due to the hard work of all concerned,” the group said in the statement.
House Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, accused Lamont of co-opting an idea he had dismissed when Republicans suggested it.
“While I’m grateful that the governor’s administration has prioritized the free exercise of religion, I hope he and the legislature’s Democrats will come to embrace the notion that Connecticut is better off with bipartisan cooperation and conversation on such important decisions,” Candelora said in a statement.
Asked about the comments, Lamont brushed off the critique. “I have an open door and I take good ideas from folks and I appreciate the good ideas,” he said.