Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that all public health restrictions due to the pandemic will be lifted May 19 leaving businesses to chart their own course as how to keep consumer confidence while broadening services.
The announcement includes allowing bars to serve alcohol outdoors without serving food, and extends the curfew for dining from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m as of May 1. Bars will be able to open indoors without providing meals; large event venues and movie theaters will be free of crowd capacity restrictions; and the dining curfew will sunset on May 19, Lamont said.
The mask mandate will remain in place until further notice, but Lamont said at a Monday news briefing that at some point it will be up to individual businesses to determine if customers will be required to wear masks.
“You’ll be able to have a cool frosty with friends around the table,” Lamont said. “We’ll see how it goes by May 19.”
The plan to loosen the restrictions is contingent on the vaccination rate and other metrics including the number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, Lamont said.
“Obviously we’re going to watch it like a hawk,” Lamont said.
Connecticut has been hovering for weeks at about 1,000 positive tests for COVID-19 a day. The state reached the milestone of 8,000 deaths from COVID-19 over the weekend. At the same time, the number of state residents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 increases by about 10% each week, said the state’s chief operating officer, Josh Geballe. As of Monday, 61% of adults over the age of 18 had received at least one shot, Lamont said.
“We’re not slowing down at all,” Geballe said. “At the current trajectory, we’ll be at 70% by the end of the month.”
Lamont said he relied on Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford and Department of Economic Development Commissioner David Lehman when making the decision to loosen restrictions.
The mask mandate will likely continue in the state’s elementary, middle and high schools through the end of the school year in June, and in crowded public places, Lamont said. But students returning to state-run colleges and universities this fall probably will not face a vaccination requirement, he said.
The announcement was a “breath of fresh air” for the state’s embattled restaurant and bar industry which lost a record number of jobs during the pandemic, said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
“More than a year after this pandemic began, local restaurant owners and employees can finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” Dolch said. “Today’s news gives restaurants a plan and a timeframe for recovery.”
Some of the details of the removal of the restrictions will have to be worked out, Dolch said. But it will be important that restaurants and bars maintain safety measures in order to keep consumers comfortable, he said.
“Restaurants are still driven by consumer confidence and what they feel,” Dolch said.
Bars have been particularly hard hit since they were not allowed to open unless they were also selling meals. Dolch said most bars in Connecticut have full-service kitchens which allowed them to stay open, but that’s not their business model.
“The majority of their business is driven by that bar life,” Dolch said. “Selling meals is not the bread and butter of their business.”
At least one bar, Casey’s Irish Pub in Milford, sued Lamont over his use of executive power to shut down the industry — and lost.
Dolch said about 250 bars that closed temporarily during the pandemic will likely reopen for outdoor service on May 1 and indoor service on May 19.
The key will be to get as many people vaccinated as possible so the state’s restaurant industry can thrive again, Dolch said.
Right now 88% of state residents 65 and older have been vaccinated. The trick will be to increase the percentage of vaccinated adults ages 18 to 44, who tend to frequent bars and concert halls, Lamont and Dolch said.
“If we can get that 18-to-44 age group up, we will have herd immunity and be back to a really great number,” Lamont said.