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Daily coronavirus updates: Gov. Ned Lamont’s new executive order gives police power to enforce COVID-19 regulations; extends state of emergency to June 20

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 5/19/2020 By Nicholas Rondinone, Hartford Courant
a sign on the side of a building: Morneault's Stackpole Moore Tryon has signs that read \"We will reopen when the viral emergency is over\" in their front windows, as restaurants and businesses have closed in order to keep patrons and employees safe from the ongoing COVID-19 concerns, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in in downtown Hartford. © Kassi Jackson / Hartford Courant/Hartford Courant/TNS Morneault's Stackpole Moore Tryon has signs that read \"We will reopen when the viral emergency is over\" in their front windows, as restaurants and businesses have closed in order to keep patrons and employees safe from the ongoing COVID-19 concerns, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in in downtown Hartford.

On the eve of Connecticut’s cautious reopening Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont has expanded the authority of local municipalities to legally enforce social distancing and other orders when people or businesses do not comply.

Many of the requests from the governor, from wearing masks in public to social distancing, were previously difficult to enforce under state law, but a new executive order Monday broadens law enforcement authority and add to the definition of what is legally considered a public nuisance.

Lamont’s executive order on Monday evening also repeals previous orders and extends a state of emergency in the state through June 20, prohibiting large gatherings and closing numerous facilities, from movie theaters to gyms.

Previously, local authorities have relied on municipal ordinances, unique to towns and cities, as a potential means to get individuals to follow the governor’s orders that he said are issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Municipalities were not planning any aggressive enforcement through arrests after the reopening Wednesday, but would rely instead on customers and businesses to follow the order.

The order reads: “state police and municipal police may enforce violations of orders issued pursuant to a civil preparedness or public health emergency and there is a public health need to add additional enforcement capabilities.”

The broad executive order, issued ahead of the first phase of reopening set to begin Wednesday, also defines many businesses as public health facility and gives the local health director the power to shutter these facilities, including restaurants, clubs and hair salons, until they come into compliance with new reopening regulations defined by the Department of Economic and Community Development

Connecticut hits public health criteria ahead of opening

Connecticut has met the seven key public health criteria outlined as necessary to begin the reopening Wednesday of businesses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont said at his daily press briefing Monday.

Those benchmarks include increased testing and an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, as well as a sustained decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Lamont said that hospitalizations had been on the decline for almost four weeks and were 53% below their peak. They declined by 17 Monday to 920.

The state has performed 45,000 COVID-19 tests over the past week, 3,000 more than the goal for the first phase of the reopening and double the week prior, and has a 60-day supply of protective equipment, some of which is being delivered with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to nursing homes that have been among the hardest-hit populations by the virus.

Connecticut reported 697 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases Monday out of 7,072 test results received, a positive rate of less than 10%, another indicator that the virus is waning in the state, according to Lamont. There have been 38,116 confirmed cases since the pandemic began and 3,449 people have died, including an additional 41 deaths reported Monday.

Lamont also pointed to a robust program now in place to trace the contacts of those who become newly infected to limit new outbreaks and said that hospitals have enough available beds to deal with any new COVID-19 patients.

He said the state is protecting its most vulnerable populations by boosting testing in nursing homes and prisons and that strict guidelines have been put in place for businesses that will be allowed to reopen, including restaurants for outdoor dining, retail stores and offices. By executive order late Monday, he also gave local health directors expanded authority to shut down businesses that don’t comply with the new reopening rules when they take effect.

“If you want to open up successfully, you are going to have to give those customers and employees a real sense that you know how important their health is,” Lamont said.

But Lamont’s new acting public health commissioner, Deidre Gifford, said residents cannot let up on prevention strategies as businesses reopen.

“We understand that it’s been challenging to comply with all of these stay at home strategies that the governor has put in place, but it’s really important from a public health standpoint that we don’t let our guard down,” said Gifford, who appeared at Monday’s briefing wearing a mask. “The reason that it’s important is we don’t want to see the infection rate start to climb again.”

Opening of hair salons delayed until June 1

Lamont said Monday that the reopening date for hair salons has shifted from Wednesday to June 1.

In a news release, he said the decision was made based on feedback from salon owners and their employees as well as a desire to align the state’s reopening with neighboring Rhode Island.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from many owners and employees, and at this time I think the best approach is that we hit pause on the reopening of hair salons and barbershops, take a step back, and allow some more time as preparations continue to be made,” Lamont said.

The Connecticut Beauty Association, which represents more than 3,600 hairdressers and barbers, had planned a protest Monday afternoon at the state Capitol asking for the reopening date to be pushed back.

“Right now, we share the goal of a later opening date but I also want you to know that regardless of what happens in this particular fight, we will not stop advocating for our industry. I’m proud to see so many stylists in this state come together to help and support each other,” said Alison Valsamis, a leader in the association.

The organization said there is a lack of funding for personal protective equipment, limiting how long these businesses can stay open and preventing some from going into work.

They also expressed concerns over childcare following the early reopening. The organization said that more than 90% of the industry is women, many of whom are responsible for helping children kept home during prolonged school closures.

Religious leaders say churches should remain closed

A New Haven clergy leader is cautioning churches from opening during the pandemic until the number of tests increase and the state sees a decline in reported positive cases of COVID-19.

“I am asking that we do not put our parishioners in harms way,” said the Rev. Boise Kimber, head of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association. "We still have time to Zoom, conference call, Facebook live, YouTube, other areas that we can communicate with our people. ... There are many ways.”

Churches and other religious institutions have been allowed to stay open during the pandemic, but Lamont has limited the number of parishioners that can attend a given service. Many churches, fearing the spread of the virus, have closed.

Kimber said some clergy are feeling the pressure to reopen either for financial reasons or from their parishioners who wish to attend services in person.

“This situation is quite unprecedented, and we have made concerted efforts to ensure that individuals promptly receive testing and essential protective personal equipment,” Kimber said.

Nicholas Rondinone can be reached at nrondinone@courant.com.

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©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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