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Newtown Businesses, Patrons, Behaving After First Full Day Of Phase 1 Reopening



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UPDATE: A photo caption in this report was corrected at 2:15 pm on May 27 to provide the correct name of Parks & Rec staffer Sam Fuller.

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Newtown officials are happy to report that the first full day of "Phase 1" reopening has generally gone smoothly for local participating businesses as well as their patrons.

There have been a few cases where mistaken identity has generated calls to the police, however.

According to Lt Aaron Bahamonde, who was responding to a Newtown Bee query on May 21, one complaint noting the appearance of people playing some type of "organized sport" at one town facility turned out to be a mom and dad kicking a soccer ball around with their own children.

Another call referring to a group of apparent patrons congregating at a local salon turned out to be employees readying the establishment for eventual opening. And a third complaint about customers not wearing masks at another business turned out to be store employees moving inventory around before opening Friday morning.

Lt Bahamonde reiterated a sentiment that First Selectman Dan Rosenthal has been repeating for weeks about being patient while business owners and residents navigate a new normal as tentative reopenings in a very risk-conscious COVID-19 world commence.

The State of Connecticut has established new enforcement protocols to ensure businesses follow the Sector Rules following the May 20 Phase One Reopen with enforcement to be handled by local health officials, local law enforcement, and municipalities. These agencies have the authority to inspect businesses for compliance with public health and the reopen sector rules established to protect businesses, employees, and residents from spreading or contracting COVID-19.

In most instances, a first violation will result in a warning and education by local law enforcement. In instances of a second or more egregious violation, law enforcement will refer complaint to the local public health department or chief elected official designee. The local public health department and chief elected official’s designee may order business closure.

Residents and employees who want to report noncompliance should contact local law enforcement or use the online complaint form at ct.gov/coronavirus. Those who do not have internet access can call 211 and an operator will fill out the form on their behalf.

After submitting the form, users will receive a customized response pertinent to the complaint, including contact information for local law enforcement, local public health, CONN-OSHA, or OSHA.

"As far as businesses are concerned, we are expecting them to self-regulate — and we hope their customers do as well," Lt Bahamonde said. At the same time, he said the police are bound to investigate any complaints being made about the appearance of violations.

In that respect, Lt Bahamonde said, residents have been almost uniformly appreciative of the ways police officers have had to adapt.

"People have been really great understanding that we might need to call them on a complaint versus sending an officer out, or that an officer may have to practice distancing if they do respond to certain calls," he said. "I think that has contributed to our force remaining healthy while some other departments have not been as lucky."

Bahamonde said the coming days will see a further return to more routine staffing and policing, much like Parks & Rec and Public Works crews are now returning to full work schedules. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal previously said Newtown Municipal Center staff who have been on staggered days will also be returning soon, albeit to workplaces with new or more safely structured practices and physical layouts.

'Timing And Kindness'

On the same subject, State Rep Mitch Bolinsky reached out May 21 with a note about "timing and kindness."

"I know for some of us, reopening cannot come quickly enough," Bolinsky wrote. "Businesses are struggling and most folks are anxious to get back to work and to a more normal life that feels more 'under our control.' This, and the ability to live free under the umbrella of our personal liberties, is the essence of America.

"That said, for each healthy, eager, confident individual among us, there is another who may be at high risk of infection, frightened, or grieving the loss of a loved one. They, too, are Americans and their voices matter, even if they are less confident and may need a little more caution in their own return to normal," he continued.

"Please, regardless of where you stand, try to understand that we all handle crises, our health risks, and thoughts of our own mortality in different ways," the lawmaker concluded. "I ask you to resist passing judgment. Think what you may, but act with kindness."

Health District Director Donna Culbert also said her department had received no resident complaints since offices, parks, and restaurants started reopening on Wednesday.

Culbert did report late Thursday afternoon the passing of another resident from the novel coronavirus, and that positive Newtown COVID-19 cases has now risen to 207.

As of May 20 at 8:30 pm, a total of 39,208 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among Connecticut residents and 816 patients currently hospitalized with laboratory confirmed COVID-19. There have now been 3,582 COVID-19-associated deaths reported statewide.

Acknowledging that "things are subject to sudden change for reasons we do not all understand," Bolinsky reported that, at this time, a number of businesses are working toward a June 3 restart as part of Phase 2 reopenings.

They include retail operations at farms, farm stands, and farm stores; farmers' markets; equestrian facilities, museums and zoos; as well as further openings of offices, restaurants, retail businesses, and malls.

"I can’t wait," Bolinsky said.

The local lawmaker also advised that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has released an operational plan for Connecticut State Parks and Boat Launches — available by CLICKING HERE

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) has also issued Best Practices for Dentists and Dentists Offices, along with Private Family Campground Rules and Recommendations.

Primary Absentee Voting

On May 20, Governor Ned Lamont announced that because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he has signed an executive order allowing all registered voters in Connecticut to vote absentee in the August 11, 2020 primary elections.

Current state law authorizes the use of an absentee ballot for six reasons, including a voter’s active service in the Armed Forces; absence from town during all of the hours of voting; own illness; religious beliefs; duties as an election official; and physical disability.

Lamont said that as the highly contagious virus continues to spread and nearly 3,500 people in the state who have contracted the disease have died within the last two months, it is critical that state government make reasonable adjustments that reflect the current state of emergency while ensuring that the democratic process continues safely and securely.

“Nobody should need to make a decision between their health and their right to vote,” Lamont said. “Our state has taken every responsible step to this point to ensure that our residents are safe, and the next step we must take is to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 when Connecticut residents cast their ballots.

"We must guarantee access to the ballot, and this is a way to do that during these extraordinary circumstances. I do not take this decision lightly, and it is with the public health and welfare of residents in mind.”

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has announced that she intends to mail every registered voter in the state an application they will need to fill out and return in order to obtain an absentee ballot. That application, which will be sent via US Postal Service, will include a postage paid return envelope.

After processing the applications at the local level, all voters who request an absentee ballot will receive the ballots in the mail, which will also include a postage paid return envelope. Each town will also have a secure dropbox in a prominent location to allow voters to deliver their absentee ballots in person without close personal contact.

Connecticut’s 2020 presidential primary was initially scheduled to be held on April 28, but to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, Lamont signed executive orders rescheduling it, first to June 2 and then to August 11, the same date that the state was already scheduled to hold primaries for other federal, state, and local offices.

Moving the presidential primary to this date enables the primary for president to appear on the same ballot as those for other offices, and eliminates the need for the state to hold two separate primary elections.

Anyone in crisis or facing issues making ends meet or experiencing stress or anxiety can also call the 211 infoline or consult its companion website 211ct.org.

For the most up-to-date information from the State of Connecticut on COVID-19, including an FAQ, other guidance and resources, and a way to ask questions, Newtown residents are encouraged to visit ct.gov/coronavirus.

The Newtown Bee is continuing to provide and mirror information and messages coming from local and state agencies on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Newtown residents can get more details by visiting Newtown’s own COVID-19 web page, at newtown-ct.gov.

Residents can also review all prior COVID-19 updates and follow the newspaper’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages for breaking local news and advisories.

Please check in regularly, share, and follow the newspaper’s hyper local coverage at newtownbee.com through the remainder of this public health emergency.

Newtown Park Ranger Sam Fuller speaks with a Parks & Rec employee early Thursday afternoon, May 21, at the entrance of Treadwell Park. Treadwell and Dickinson parks reopened on May 20, with new rules — and signage — in place for those who want to use the outdoor recreation areas.  —Bee Photo, Hicks
The patio at Farmhouse Restaurant has a sign thanking healthcare heroes. A second sign at the restaurant's main entrance announces that the eatery's interior is accessible only to employees. As of May 21, Farmhouse continues to offer curbside and delivery options. Its outdoor dining area, according to its website and Facebook page, will open soon.   —Bee Photo, Hicks
A pontoon boat steers away from other watercraft heading northward on Lake Zoar near the Glen Road 'Silver Bridge' May 16. As Newtown heads into Memorial Day weekend, its waterways along Lakes Zoar and Lillinonah are expected to be busy with recreational boaters, personal watercraft, anglers, and possibly a few brave swimmers. —Bee Photo, Voket
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