If declining COVID-19 trends hold, Connecticut will ease restrictions on indoor event venues used to host weddings and entertainment — allowing up to 100 people inside — beginning on March 19, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday.
“Event planners tell us you need time to plan, so that’s why we’re giving you a month to plan this. I know you want some guarantees we can have a big wedding in July. I can’t give you any guarantees, but right now the trends are good,” Lamont said during a televised news briefing.
The plan would bump the cap on people at an indoor venue from 25 to 100. The venues will be limited to 50% of their total capacity. Limits on people at outdoor venues will be lifted from 50 to 200 people.
Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, praised Lamont as responding to the pleas of an industry hit hard by the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, Connecticut’s event industry and related businesses accounted for 32,000 jobs per month, and it’s critical for our state’s local economy that we get all of those people working again. This new timetable for reopening will give confidence to our customers and guests who need to plan months in advance for their special events,” Dolch said in a statement.
The announcement comes as public health officials monitor the spread of two highly-infectious variants of the virus in Connecticut. The state announced the first confirmed case of B.1.351, often called the “South African variant” of the virus on Monday. Meanwhile, there have now been 42 confirmed cases of B.1.1.7, dubbed the “U.K. variant.”
Despite these cases, Lamont said he felt confident Connecticut’s virus indicators would continue to trend in a positive direction, in part due to the ongoing rollout of the vaccine.
“I think we’re putting up, I’m not sure I can say a ‘firewall,’ but certainly some things to keep us ahead of what the U.K. variant could be,” said Lamont, who received his own first dose of the vaccine earlier Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, 473,784 Connecticut residents had received at least their first doses of the vaccine. Another 218,062 had gotten both shots. Meanwhile, two-thirds of residents aged 75 and over had been vaccinated, according to the governor. “That makes an enormous difference. That’s the population most vulnerable,” he said.
Providers began vaccinating residents between the ages of 65 and 74 last week. So far, 23% of that age group have received a dose. Lamont said he expected to make an announcement regarding the next group in about 10 days. The group will contain essential workers, including teachers, and people with pre-existing medical conditions, he said.
Lamont was optimistic the rate of vaccinations would begin to speed up as the state expected to see a 22% increase in its supply of vaccines beginning next week.
On Tuesday, Connecticut’s primary virus indicators remained low. The daily positivity rate held roughly steady at 2.83% and the number of patients hospitalized with the virus dropped by 12 to 606 statewide. There were only two reported deaths. Lamont speculated the low fatality rate could be a reporting anomaly caused by the long Presidents’ Day weekend.
Still the governor signalled the positive trends had him considering easing more public health restrictions. In the coming months Lamont said he would revisit restrictions on bars, which have yet to reopen during the pandemic. He also said he expected to have news regarding sporting events later this week.
“I think by Thursday we’re going to be talking about attendance at sports events so you maybe have a chance to see your kid play hockey or basketball while you still have a winter season in high school sports,” he said.