As Connecticut prepared to open bars and scale back restrictions on restaurants this weekend, Gov. Ned Lamont reported some of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in months during his Thursday news briefing. 

COVID hospitalizations declined by four to 403 patients and the state’s new infection rate stood at 1.34% as Connecticut added just 486 new cases since Wednesday.  

“That is the lowest number we’ve had in six months,” Lamont said. “As you know, I’m not a day trader, but this two-week trend, this four-week trend, really means a lot and over the last couple weeks it’s down 50%, so I’d like to think this is a trend that’s going to be with us for a long time.”

The governor seemed happy to be passing good news ahead of Saturday, when bars will be permitted to serve alcohol without food for the first time since they were closed more than a year ago. The state will also lift group size restrictions at restaurants and move their dining curfew from 11 p.m. to midnight. 

The changes are the first part of a two-stage plan to phase out virtually all pandemic-related restrictions on businesses on May 19. After that date, only the indoor mask mandate will remain in place.

Lamont offered no prediction as to when Connecticut would stop requiring masks inside businesses. He said many businesses wanted the state mandate to stay in place.

“Basically, I think the stores and the restaurant folks told me, ‘Unless you hear differently, rather than have us have to decide when the mask is required and when it’s not indoors, I think our customers still feel more comfortable when they see others wearing the mask. Governor, will you take the heat and make it a requirement a little bit longer?’” he said of his conversations with businesses. 

Lamont chalked up the declining infection rates to the ongoing vaccination rollout. As of Thursday, more than 1.3 million residents were fully vaccinated. He said clinics had resumed administering the Johnson & Johnson shot and seen strong demand for the single-dose formula. 

However, in general, the governor reported that demand for COVID-19 vaccines had declined in Connecticut by around 50% over the last two weeks. More than 100 clinics had begun vaccinating walk-up patients.

“There is demand, but demand was down and we’re doing everything we can to make the last of our folks — 34% who aren’t vaccinated — hope they get vaccinated and vaccinated soon,” he said.