Gov. Ned Lamont is tightening restrictions — announcing Thursday private indoor and outdoor social gatherings will be limited to 10 people and recommending a statewide curfew — as 60 percent of Connecticut residents are now living in a COVID-19 “red alert zone.”
The state released a health advisory on Thursday, urging all residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. except for essential trips due to a high rate of COVID transmission from “informal private gatherings.”
“We're really recommending that people be home by 10 o'clock,” Lamont said, pointing out Rhode Island and Massachusetts residents are under the same advisory.
“It's just a little easier to stay safe, stay at home,” the governor said.
Earlier this week, Lamont set strict limits for restaurants, ordering that they close by 9:30 p.m., return to a maximum of 50 percent from 75 percent and allow no more than eight people at a table. On Thursday, citing conversations with industry leaders, he pushed the closing limit back to 10 p.m. and said customers must be served by 9:30 p.m.
That was part of a rollback to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening, with reductions on the allowable size of gatherings such as weddings at professionally managed event venues — to 50 people outdoors, from 150. Indoor limits remain at 25.
The restrictions take effect Friday but any events scheduled previously are allowed to go on as planned this weekend.
Connecticut colleges have been disciplining students for holding or attending large gatherings, including some that officials say have led to the spread of the coronavirus.
Quinnipiac University in Hamden suspended in-person classes this week after 55 new COVID-19 cases were reported. That came after the school sent about 20 students home last week for attending a large Halloween party at New Haven’s Anthony’s Ocean View, which has since been closed for violating COVID-19 guidelines.
Red-alert list grows sharply
Lamont also placed new restrictions on youth sports, banning travel out of state or hosting of competitors from other states, while the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced it would delay the start of the winter high school season, which was set to begin practices Nov. 21.
The new restrictions came as the state on Thursday reported 1,157 new cases, a figure that included 530 previously unreported ones since August.
The daily positivity rate stood at 3.73 percent, according to the state’s data. Hospitalizations for the virus were also up, with a net six additional patients, bringing the statewide total to 380. Eleven more deaths attributed to the disease were reported, increasing the statewide toll to 4,656.
The governor’s office also released on Thursday the latest list of municipalities on the COVID alert list, a color-coded system that measures the coronavirus spread in each community.
The new list includes 68 municipalities in the “red alert” zone for having 15 or more COVID cases per day per 100,000 residents in a 14-day span ending Oct. 31. That’s more than double last week’s list of 26 municipalities in the red zone.
The latest figures show New London with more than 53 cases per 100,000 residents while Norwalk had more than 51 -- a total of 641 cases in the two weeks.
Lamont noted the number of residents living in the “red alert” communities represents about 60 percent of the state’s population.
Gatherings limited to 10 people
As he has before, Lamont conceded the state can’t strictly enforce the 10-person limit for social gatherings. He asked people to use their best judgment. “Have great fun this weekend with your nine best friends,” he quipped.
And the 10-person limit applies to Thanksgiving dinner, Lamont said.
“Look, it’s a tough pill to swallow, I get it,” he said, urging residents to continue following the restrictions “a little bit longer.”
Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner for the state Department of Public Health, said the 10-person limit will likely remain in place through the holiday season, including Christmas. Gatherings in private homes have been a major source of spread nationally, she said.
“We tend to let down our guard a little bit in terms of masks and distancing when we’re inside our homes,” she said.
The governor said there will be strict enforcement of the 10-person gathering limits at businesses, including restaurants. However, Lamont acknowledged enforcement would be harder at private homes, where he said residents will be on the honor system.
“What goes on in your home is going to be on the honor system, but Connecticut’s pretty good at the honor system,” Lamont said.
No high-risk sports
Lamont said the state is also not allowing high-risk sports, including boxing, martial arts, 11-on-11 football and wrestling, to be played through the end of the year.
Players of sports deemed medium-risk, including hockey and basketball, will need to wear masks while competing as of Monday, Lamont said.
The restrictions only apply to K-12 sports, the governor said. College-level sports, which have a greater ability to insulate players from possible sources of infection, will not be affected, he said.
Traveling out of state for competitions will also be banned starting Monday, Lamont said.
Gifford noted that if a school-aged athlete is exposed to the virus at a tournament, the contact tracing is extremely difficult for local health officials.
“They’re telling us it’s beginning to impact the ability of some schools to remain open because so many kids are being asked to quarantine — sometimes it’s teachers as well if they’re acting as coaches,” she said.
Restaurants push back
The decision to curtail restaurants drew criticism this week from Connecticut’s restaurant association, which argued patrons dining out have not been the main contributors of the surge in new cases.
Scott Dolch, the restaurant association president, said the reduction in capacity and the 9:30 p.m. curfew present a “renewed challenge,” to the state’s food service businesses.
The curfew also applies to entertainment and recreation venues such as bowling alleys.
Personal services, including barbershops and hair salons, are allowed to remain at 75 percent capacity.
Other restrictions include a cap of 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors for event venues; a 100-person cap for movie theaters and performing arts venues; and a cap on religious services of 50 percent capacity or 100 people. Larger events scheduled for this weekend can go on as planned, the governor's office said.