The reopening of Connecticut bars, once anticipated for mid-July, could be further delayed because Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday he was “rethinking” the next phase of the state’s reopening plan as COVID-19 cases surge in the South and West.
“Connecticut never opened up its bars. Sorry about that, but I think it was a good move,” Lamont said during his daily press conference.
Lamont also said he has considered increasing Connecticut’s restaurant occupancy (currently 50% for indoor dining) but that recent COVID-19 spikes across the country made him wary of reopening Connecticut too brazenly.
Several southern and western states which allowed bars and nightclubs to reopen later saw significant spikes in COVID-19 cases, particularly among younger people. Lamont noted that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently ordered bars to close again as COVID-19 cases continued to soar. Lamont’s reconsideration of the state’s phase three of reopening comes as states and municipalities are tightening restrictions and stepping back from reopening.
“I do get anxious because there’s a very narrow margin for error,” Lamont said, in reference to how quickly COVID-19 has spread recently in states like Florida, Arizona and Texas.
In Connecticut, the number of hospitalizations dipped below 100 Monday to 99, the lowest that metric has been during the pandemic. There were 59 new positive cases and four additional deaths.
The state has now conducted 442,998 tests for COVID-19, including an additional 6,354 on Sunday. The state’s positive test rate on Monday was .93%.
A decision about Connecticut’s third phase of reopening will likely come after the Fourth of July weekend and will depend on the state’s own COVID-19 metrics as well as the regional and national context of the pandemic.
Testing wastewater to track COVID-19
Lamont highlighted research Monday from Yale University that studied wastewater in order to track the spread of COVID-19 in the New Haven area. A team of researchers, led by Jordan Peccia of the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science, found that by testing daily samples of sludge at a wastewater treatment facility they could predict changes in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations a few days in advance.
The research has broad implications for tracking community spread of the coronavirus and Lamont said that the method will soon be used in nursing homes, universities and all of Connecticut’s municipalities.
“By doing a test out of that wastewater, we’ll have an indication five days plus, of what you can expect in terms of hospitalizations,” he said.
Expanded assistance for renters, homeowners
Lamont announced Monday that more than $33 million in state and federal support would be allocated to renters, homeowners and landlords impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funds include $10 million for a rental assistance program, administered by the Department of Housing, which will provide payments for landlords on behalf of approved tenant applicants, particularly those from lower-income households who have been denied unemployment insurance.
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Five million dollars will go toward assisting renters who were in the eviction process before COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency and $10 million will help provide mortgage relief for those whose mortgages are not federally insured, to be administered by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. Two-and-a-half million dollars is allocated as rental assistance for those who are ineligible for funds from the federal CARES Act, including residents who are undocumented.
“When people lose their housing, they may be forced to resort to living in doubled-up situations or to enter homeless shelters,” social services commissioner and acting public health commissioner Deidre Gifford said in a statement. “Science is clear that denser housing conditions and less ability to socially distance mean a greater risk to these individuals and families, and to their communities, of catching and spreading the COVID virus. Helping Connecticut residents stay housed is an important part of our public health response.”
The plan also includes provisions for those becoming housed following periods of homelessness or incarceration, from $4 million in rapid rehousing funds for those who are homeless to $1.8 million in funding for reentry and housing assistance for formerly incarcerated individuals, to be administered by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
Lamont’s plan also extends the moratorium on residential eviction to Aug. 25 and extends the opportunity to apply a portion of any security deposit worth more than one month’s rent toward rental payments.