The state's May 20 phase one reopening target date has implications for all Connecticut employers, not just those planning to reopen or expand operations once shutdown orders are relaxed.
Assuming the state continues to meet key public health criteria for the first phase target date, offices, and retailers and malls may reopen—with restrictions—May 20. Hair salons and barbershops were in the May 20 plan and are now delayed until June.
Restaurants, currently limited to take out or delivery service only, can provide outdoor dining and museums and zoos can open outdoor operations.
The reopening guidelines are based on a set of safeguards, with strict controls on business operations and social interaction.
These generally include, among other measures:
- Capacity limit (based on local fire codes) of 50% for businesses that reopen
- Strict cleaning and disinfection protocols in all settings
- Those who can work from home should continue to do so
- Those in high-risk groups (comorbidities) and over the age of 65 should continue to stay safe and stay home
- Face masks should continue to be worn in public at all times
- Maintain social distancing practices
The guidelines published by the state Department of Economic and Community Development also include rules specific to each industry sector allowed to reopen or expand.
Offices that reopen will be limited to 50% capacity, with desks spaced six feet apart, restrictions on elevator and other shared spaces, mandatory face coverings, staggered shift and break times, and cleaning and disinfection protocols.
Restaurants will be limited to outdoor operations at 50% capacity during phase one, with social distancing requirements, staggered shift and break times, mandatory masks or face coverings for staff, and cleaning and disinfection protocols.
Retail outlets and malls are also limited to 50% capacity and must provide physical barriers to protect staff and customers where social distancing cannot be maintained, with mandatory face coverings for staff and customers, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
Hair salons and barbershops (now delayed until June) can accept customers by appointment only, with no waiting areas, social distancing controls, mandatory face coverings for staff and customers, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
As with restaurants and retail outlets, the guidelines encourage hair salons and barbershops to use contactless payment methods.
Museums and zoos are limited to outdoor operations only and 50% capacity, with no interactive exhibits, social distancing controls, mandatory face coverings for staff and customers, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
Businesses deemed essential by the state that have been allowed to remain open must continue to follow the Connecticut Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Employers.
Those rules largely mirror the reopening guidelines—including requiring masks or face coverings.
Essential employers are not limited to the 50% onsite capacity rule and are not required to self-certify with the state.
Essential employers may self-certify to access state-developed workplace posters and self-certification badge.
All businesses are required to appoint an administrator to manage guideline implementation and compliance, train employees, develop cleaning plans, keep employee logs, conduct daily health checks, and post signs with the state's 211 number for reporting violations.
DECD also published additional resources this weekend for small businesses.
CBIA and its CONNSTEP affiliate partnered with the state this week to distribute free infrared thermometers to small businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
That program complements a similar partnership providing surgical masks to essential employers with 50 or fewer employees.
DECD commissioner David Lehman told a May 14 Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group business roundtable target dates for additional phases will be determined in coming weeks, with June 20 emerging as the next milestone.
"Individual businesses can choose when to open. We thought it was important to provide the option," Lehman said,
"This is going to be dynamic. This is a virus we are still learning about. As we learn more, we're going to change our rules."
CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan said reopening will only work if everyone—employers, employees, and customers—adheres to the guidelines.
"It's going to be incumbent on every individual in the state of Connecticut to make this reopening successful," he said.
"I know there are people who are angry about wearing masks or following some other guidelines, but everybody wants to get things open as soon as possible and the only way to do that is to follow the guidelines."
Brennan said he understands the hit businesses—especially small businesses—are taking, noting that a resurgence of COVID-19 cases "could cause more lasting damage than the original closures."
"From our perspective, we're extremely concerned about the overall economy," he said.
"We're all worried about having to shut down again once we open up and it would be extremely difficult for our economy to recover from that."
Brennan told a May 15 webinar hosted by the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association and CBIA that a number of issues continue to concern employers, including liability and labor and employment challenges.
He noted that the dynamics of the pandemic and federal and state government responses created a dynamic, fluid situation that often left "more questions than answers."
"Follow the guidelines and document everything," he said.
"Businesses can operate safely as long as they follow the rules, employees follow the rules, and any customers, suppliers, or vendors that interact with those businesses also follow the rules.
"We just have to be smart about how we do this going forward."