Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer
With eased COVID-19 restrictions on the horizon, city officials are preparing to make the expansion of New Haven business capacity as smooth and safe as possible, Mayor Justin Elicker and others said at a Monday morning press conference.
On March 4, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that starting March 19, capacity limits for most local businesses — including restaurants, libraries, gyms and offices — will be eliminated. However, bars will remain closed and theaters will adhere to a 50 percent capacity requirement. City officials expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of reopening, but noted that businesses must still enforce safety protocols including social distancing, which means many establishments will still not be able to operate at 100 percent capacity.
“One of the most important messages we want to get out there is that we don’t want people, given the opening-up changes by the governor’s office, to feel like it’s yet time to celebrate,” Elicker said at the press conference. “We’re not out of the woods yet, and we have a long way to go. While we’re all very excited about the idea of being beyond the pandemic, we’re far from it.”
The city is also preparing for another round of greater reopening measures that is planned to start on April 2, when outdoor amusement parks can open in Connecticut, alongside outdoor stadiums at 10 percent capacity and outdoor events at 50 percent capacity with a 10,000 person cap. The new order will also allow summer festivals and summer camps to run.
Maritza Bond, director of the New Haven Health Department, said her team and the city’s Economic Development Administration are working closely with each of the different sectors to make sure they will be prepared for reopening. Bond noted that compliance with public health guidelines is required to make sure everything in the future will run smoothly.
“Although we are working hard to ensure our community [gets] vaccinated, we are still not out of the radar,” Bond said. “We want to make sure that individuals are washing their hands often and making sure that you’re reducing as much as possible any indoor gatherings.”
New Haven Economic Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli reiterated Elicker and Bond’s point that a lack of capacity limits will require sustained compliance with COVID-19 regulations. He also mentioned several city initiatives aimed at helping New Haven businesses in their transition, such as “free business planning and assistance” resources through the Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, New Haven’s outdoor dining program will return, which shut down parts of major streets for eateries to set up tables outside. Last year, between 37 and 40 businesses took advantage of the program, and Piscitelli hopes to expand it in 2021. The Economic Development Administration plans to be able to close Orange Street and College Street to accommodate for outdoor dining.
Piscitelli also noted that the pandemic is continuing to hurt the city’s economy, especially in regards to unemployment.
“Given the ongoing effects of the pandemic, we still have about 6,500 New Haven residents who are filing for continuing unemployment benefits,” he said. “The only way to bring those workers back is to follow the protocols and make sure everyone follows the game plan right through summer.”
Since vaccination efforts began in December, Bond said the city has provided vaccines to almost 9,700 residents.
Bond also said she was “pleased” with the CDC guidance regarding vaccinated individuals, which allows them to gather with other vaccinated individuals indoors maskless. She added that vaccinated individuals should carry their vaccination card with them, especially if they are traveling.
The current vaccination phase includes individuals 55 years old and up, teachers and day care providers of any age and people experiencing homelessness.
Bond emphasized that the city is working diligently to vaccinate teachers and Board of Education members around the city.
Mayor Elicker noted that due to HIPAA regulations, it is illegal to keep track of how many teachers and school personnel are being vaccinated beyond voluntary surveys. However, nurses are rotating through schools in the city to give personnel multiple opportunities to receive vaccines. According to Elicker, Wilbur Cross High School is currently serving as a vaccination site averaging around 300 vaccinations a day. Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center has been leading efforts to vaccinate individuals experiencing homelessness around the city. So far, around 150 individuals, including some service providers, have been vaccinated at that center.
New Haven has 11,540 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday.
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