HEBRON — Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that flexibility will be the key to the state’s deliberate, summer-long reopening process, and depending on how the coronavirus proceeds — along with Connecticut’s reaction to its unfolding freedoms — he may slow down or speed up future segments of the public recovery.
While Lamont admitted surprise — during a late-morning Hearst Connecticut Media webinar — at how small the response was to retail and restaurant openings on Wednesday, he said that consumers and corporations alike need to establish some confidence.
“Slow and steady is fine with me,” Lamont said.
“I think that the people of Connecticut have been cautious,” the governor said, noting that a month ago, Georgia allowed many businesses to reopen, and customers there remain reluctant as well.
“It’s not like the governors are closing down the economy,” Lamont said. “The consumers have to feel a sense of confidence before they go back. That’s why, for example, maybe they’re going to walk by the restaurant once or twice and see if the waiters are wearing masks and gloves. I feel like the restaurants have done a very good job. I think they’ll slowly be getting back to those restaurants and stores, not overnight.”
David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a Norwalk-based human resources outsourcing and consulting company, said that most people continue to work remotely from home, as they have since mid-March.
Judith Roll, the owner of Tabouli Grill and Judy’s Bar & Kitchen in Stamford, said Wednesday’s outdoor dining-only reopening was quiet at her two restaurants.
“Look, COVID is changing everyday,” Lamont told the webinar audience. “It is fast moving. I wish I could tell you exactly what the world is going to look like in August, so you could plan on it accordingly.”
He said “hundreds and hundreds” of hair salon owners and workers told him they were unprepared to reopen this week, so he pushed back hair-care shops until June 1.
The governor said he’d keep an open mind on possibly allowing summer sleep-away camps to open in July, despite the current plan to let only day camps convene at the end of June.
A key piece of that is testing,” Lamont said. “We can test everybody going into that camp, because then they’re in residence, in a tent and they’re all over each other. We’re going to cautiously be looking at that and give you guidance in a couple of weeks.”
He said there’s still “a chance” they may be allowed to open this summer.
“A month is a lifetime in COVID years,” Lamont said during the webinar, hosted by columnist Dan Haar. Lamont called the reopening guidelines provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “incredibly vague.”
No swimming at freshwater parks
During an earlier news conference in Gay City State Park here, Lamont’s environmental chief said that behavior over the Memorial Day weekend, with sharp limits on park attendance, 15-foot distances between beach blankets on Long Island Sound and a ban on swimming in fresh water, including Indian Well State Park in Shelton and Squantz Pond in New Fairfield, could set the tone for a possible easing later in the summer.
Connecticut’s fatalities in the coronavirus pandemic rose to 3,582 on Thursday with 53 new deaths reported, the state Department of Public Health announced. For the 29th consecutive day, net hospitalizations declined. Hospitalizations were reduced by 71 patients, bringing the total to 816, the lowest since April 1.
Lamont and Katie Dykes, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, suggested that park and beach goers arrive early because environmental conservation police will be banning cars, and even pedestrians, when about 25 percent of the usual capacity is reached in the more-popular parks.
“We’ve got gorgeous parks that people aren’t as familiar with,” Lamont said on the shore of a pond here, with the background of a beaver lodge and the chirping of red-winged blackbirds in the 1,569-acre park named for the family of early settlers who build lumber and woolen mills on the site.
“This is where we recommend that people focus over this weekend, because some of our parks and beaches may be loved to death,” Lamont said. The chance to obtain some serenity in the state parks is a great stress-reducer during the pandemic, he said.
“I used to say stay home, stay safe. Now I say go to a little-used park. Go to one of the ones that aren’t in the mainstream. Keep your distance if you see a group of people coming up. If we do this carefully, we’re getting through this together.”
There is a new website for the state parks and beaches, which have remained open throughout the pandemic, even as business closed and hundreds of thousands of people have lost jobs.
Jim Little, development director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, which manages the 825 miles of blue-blaze hiking trails, said the public has a special getaway resource, including parking places at trail heads.
Dykes said that for the parks to stay open, visitors need to maintain social distancing and carry face masks to wear when they are near other people. While concessions and restrooms at the parks will be closed, Dykes said that portable toilets will be available. Groups will continue to be limited to five or fewer. Campgrounds will remain closed but a decision will be made on possibly opening them around June 11.
She said that so far, visitors seem to be paying attention to the social distancing rules, even on hiking trails in the more than 100 state parks. “People did it,” she told reporters. Dykes said that while lifeguards won’t be on duty this weekend, the DEEP is in the process of hiring guards for summer work along Long Island Sound.
The fresh-water beaches are too small to support social distancing, unlike the shoreline parks, Dykes said.
“If you’re not feeling well, don’t come to a state park,” she said. “If you have underlying health conditions and you’re over 65, there are risks associated with getting out and coming to locations like this.”
Dykes said that operations are subject to change, depending on the response to the public, the future of the pandemic and the opinions of state health officials.
“There’s really no playbook for this, but we’re using all our experience from what normal summers look like and knowing where we do see a lot of visitors coming and challenges with crowds in normal times to guide a lot of our decision-making here,” she said. “As we go forward, you know, we can reassess based on how that works out.”
Kaitlyn Krasselt contributed to this report.