May 20 Target Date for Phased Reopening of State’s Economy
Connecticut is targeting May to 20 to begin a gradual, phased reopening of the state’s economy assuming several critical conditions are met.
Gov. Ned Lamont said April 30 those conditions include 14 consecutive days of declining hospitalizations, increased testing, contact tracing, protection for those at highest risk, and adequate protective equipment.
Based on satisfying those conditions—May 1 marked the ninth consecutive day of declining hospitalizations—nonessential businesses could resume restricted operations May 20.
Restaurants could open outdoor areas only, while all currently closed retail stores could reopen, as could hair and nail salons.
Offices will be allowed to resume operations, although the state will continue to encourage work from home policies.
University research programs also could resume, while museums and zoos could open for outdoor activities only.
Those businesses represent almost 50% of the more than 430,000 unemployment claims filed in Connecticut over the past six weeks.
The administration’s approach is being guided by the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, which consists of health, business, and education leaders.
Lamont said the reopening strategy would follow a four-level risk scale that begins with the most restrictive approach and phases into the least restrictive, a process could take 10 months.
Each step will have detailed guidelines for protecting employees and limit large gatherings while stressing social distancing and frequent sanitizing.
“Understand this will not happen overnight,” CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan, who is a member of the advisory group’s business committee, told about 600 business leaders during a webinar earlier in the day.
“Each phase will have restrictions and guidelines as far as [personal protective equipment] and cleaning and disinfecting, so there are a whole host of issues.”
Brennan was joined on the webinar by fellow committee members Tim Phelan of the Connecticut Merchant Retailers Association, Garrett Sheehan of the Greater New Haven Chamber, and Meredith Reuben from EBP Supply Solutions.
Employers will be given a scale to assess risks on several factors, including the duration and proximity of interactions among employees and customers.
“There are very clear directions on social distancing—how many people can get together in a group, how far apart tables should be in a restaurant,” said advisory group cochair Indra Nooyi, the former PepsiCo CEO.
“The protocols give you incredible detail.”
Lamont said the May 20 date is tentative and stressed the need to follow the guidance of health officials and ramp up testing.
He said reopening plans could be scaled back if the virus flares up.
In the first phase, masks or cloth face coverings will be required in public and stores must limit the number of customers allowed at one time.
Phelan said Connecticut retailers are ready to open their doors and understand their customers’ concerns.
“It feeds into consumer confidence,” he said. “We know our customers need to feel confident that safety measures are in place.”
Nooyi said it’s too early to determine what percentage of the workforce will return during the first phase of reopening.
“Three or four weeks after reopening, we should have some idea,” she said. “This is baby steps, we have to tiptoe our way through this.”
Reuben said advisory board members had many discussions on the requirements for businesses to reopen, including knowing the difference between cleaning and disinfecting.
“In order for disinfecting to be effective, you must clean your enterprise first,” she said.
“Depending on which [cleaning] protocol you use, there are PPE requirements, such as goggles and gloves when using bleach.”
Ideally, the reopening could be timed with schools as childcare is a major concern for employers.
“Everyone of us said childcare was important to allow workers to go back to work,” Reuben said.
Having an adequate workforce could be a concern for some businesses if employees are reluctant to return to work due to safety concerns.
But Sheehan said some employers worry that workers will stay home due to the additional $600 federal unemployment benefit.
“We are hearing concerns and now some stories where this is a problem,” he said.
“On one hand it’s a good unemployment program. It can be very beneficial.
“But we’re hearing from a lot of employers who say it’s occurring the other way now. How is an employer supposed to navigate that?”
Another concern for employers is their liability once business resumes.
“This should be taken up by Congress,” Brennan said.
“If employers are subject to numerous lawsuits for everything they do, liability protection has to be part of the complete solution.”
Advisory group members are now breaking into subcommittees.
“What we’re doing next is looking at different industries and a matrix of issues to give advice on how these industries can reopen,” Reuben said.
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