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Restriction Rollbacks Come With Advice Urging Continued COVID Caution



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It was a big week in Connecticut as state officials balanced good news about multiple virus related restrictions being lifted and state colleges reopening for increasing in-person learning with the grim notice that the state’s COVID-19 death count topped 8,000.

On April 21, the total of laboratory-confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases reported among Connecticut residents was 332,995. On that day, 507 patients were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and the state’s virus-related death count ticked up to 8,027.

At the same time, the Newtown Health District saw its COVID case count increase past another concerning benchmark to 2,013 — a jump of 53 new infections since last week — while the community’s losses to the virus held at 66.

Health District Director Donna Culbert previously cautioned individuals to continue vigilance despite the increasing number of residents becoming protected by vaccines.

"I’m still strongly advising the mask, distance, and disinfect protocols, as well as urging residents to keep their visiting of others confined to small, familiar groups," Culbert told The Newtown Bee.

By the time Governor Ned Lamont sat for an April 19 press briefing to announce the two-stage restriction rollbacks, the state was reporting that it had administered a total of 2,710,832 vaccines, with 1,113,184 state residents reported to be totally vaccinated.

A total of 61% of all adults in Connecticut over the age of 18 had received at least one dose by then, and Connecticut was the second best state in the nation for administering the most vaccines per capita.

All Connecticut residents over the age of 16 are currently eligible to receive the vaccines.

Appointments must be made in advance at all clinics statewide. To learn how to make an appointment, visit ct.gov/covidvaccine and enter a zip code to find the nearest clinics.

On April 19, Lamont announced that over the coming weeks he plans to further ease some of the restrictions on certain sectors that were put into effect at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective May 1:

*Bars that do not serve food can open for service outdoors. These establishments will still be prohibited from serving only alcohol indoors.

*The eight-person per table limit will be lifted outdoors. This limit will remain in effect for indoor service.

*The curfew for restaurants, entertainment venues, recreation venues, and theaters will be moved back an hour to midnight.

And, effective May 19, contingent upon sufficiently low rates of infection and increasing vaccination rates, all remaining business restrictions will be lifted.

The Department of Public Health will issue recommendations for indoor and other large outdoor events, such as concerts, as well as clarify where masking will continue after May 19.

Colleges And Universities

Also on April 19, Lamont announced that in-person classes will resume at state colleges this fall, with mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements still in effect. The announcement came at Gateway Community College on Monday, where leaders from colleges and universities in Connecticut joined the governor to discuss what campus life will look like this upcoming academic year.

“I think the message here today is we’re open for business, come back,” Lamont said. “It’s going to be an amazing summer and a great fall.”

Southern Connecticut State University President Joe Bertolino explained that the university is starting a gradual reopening process on June 1 and plans to “commence full operations on the ground” by August 1. Bertolino added that the university anticipates having faculty and staff resume in-person teaching this fall, and more than 70% of the courses are currently scheduled to be offered either in-person or hybrid.

Janice Palmer, a spokesperson for Central Connecticut State University, said Central is also planning to have more students on campus this fall and expects to have 90% of its classes in classrooms, calling it “a very near-normal semester.”

Judy Olian, Quinnipiac University president, said the university was able to offer a full “on the ground” experience this academic year, with 10% of its students opting to continue learning remotely.

Yale and Wesleyan universities will require students to get vaccinated before returning in the fall, but many other schools have not made a decision yet, and the governor wants to wait to see if it will be necessary.

In other education news, Lamont announced April 20 that the State of Connecticut, through the State Department of Education, is partnering with TeachRock to launch an innovative, standards-aligned arts’ curriculum in schools statewide that empowers teachers to engage with students using the history of popular music and culture.

Presented by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, TeachRock works with participating school districts, at no cost, on the integration of classroom lesson plans that connect history, music, and culture in a way that is designed to resonate with students.

“Using popular music to grab students’ attention and pull them into their academic curriculum is a creative way to engage students and help them achieve success in their studies, and I thank TeachRock for developing this program and working with us to bring it to Connecticut schools,” Governor Lamont said.

“When I was a teenager, school wasn’t reaching me,” TeachRock founder Steven Van Zandt said. “It didn’t speak to my needs or interests, and I saw no future in a society I was supposed to be a part of. Then the Beatles saved my life. Rock and roll and soul.”

Van Zandt said the arts gave him the confidence to forge a path in the world.

“It’s vitally important that we provide curricula that students from communities that grew up around rock, soul, country, salsa, hip hop, and other styles will recognize,” he added. “We need to reach the part of their brain that responds emotionally and instinctively, that uses imagination rather than facts and specifics. Something that makes them relax and feel more comfortable about the very process of education. And right now is when kids need us the most.”

Extending Preparedness

The following day, the governor said that pursuant to legislation approved by the Connecticut General Assembly, he signed a declaration renewing the public health and civil preparedness emergencies that were enacted to enable the state to provide an adequate response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration will remain in effect through May 20.

Concurrently, Lamont issued a series of new executive orders pursuant to the newly filed COVID-19 emergency declaration extension that considerably consolidates many the previously issued orders related to the pandemic and extends the duration of others.

The governor explained that this new series — indicated by the sequence number eleven — reduces the number of currently active executive orders under the state of emergency by roughly 60%, helping to provide a clearer picture for residents of those that continue to be in effect.

The executive orders include:

Executive Order No. 11: Extends to May 20 various executive orders that have been identified as critical to pandemic response and recovery, except for those covered by Executive Order Nos. 11A through 11D.

Executive Order No. 11A: Consolidates and renews sector rules and related enforcement authority so that the Department of Economic and Community Development can continue to issue changes to these rules as the circumstances evolve and vaccination rates increase.

Executive Order No. 11B: Consolidates all of the temporary flexibilities and changes to liquor sales and service. Additional orders will follow to implement the governor’s announcement about liquor service outdoors.

Executive Order No. 11C: Consolidates and renews authority for relevant agency heads to restrict visitation at congregate facilities in order to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Executive Order No. 11D: Consolidates and renews contracting flexibility to procure essential goods, services, and real estate to respond to the pandemic.

Executive Order No. 11E: Extends to May 20 executive orders that have been identified as critical to pandemic response and recovery.

CTMirror content by Adria Watson was used in this update.

An oversize teddy bear near the entrance to the Children’s Department at C.H. Booth Library reminds visitors to 25 Main Street that wearing face masks is still the best way to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. A sign next to the bear also advertises the fact that the library has its own masks available for purchase, with proceeds from each sale benefiting the library.—Bee Photo, Hicks
A screenshot of Governor Ned Lamont’s April 19 virtual press briefing displays a graphic outlining plans to lift numerous COVID-19 restrictions in two phases beginning May 1, with another raft of mandates rolling back 18 days later.
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