Connecticut infection rates fall; indoor dining, gyms, hotels reopen

A steady stream of customers lined up for barbecue at lunchtime Wednesday at Bear's Smokehouse in Hartford and for the first time in three months were allowed to take a seat inside, under the second phase of Connecticut's reopening amid declining coronavirus numbers. 

A sign telling patrons they must wear masks greeted them at the door, with a hand sanitizer dispenser stationed just inside. 'X' marks on the floor showed proper social distancing, and every other booth was closed to maintain safe distances, as required by the state.

"They're doing their part to make it easy for us to come in," said Nichelle Hosey, an electrician from East Hartford who was among the first customers to take a seat inside. "It's nice to be social, to see people and to eat great food again."

Connecticut on Wednesday also allowed the reopening of gyms, spas, movie theaters, hotels and other businesses, under strict social distancing and health protocols. Phase 2 of the economic restart, which was expected to reopen 95% of the economy, came three days earlier than originally scheduled amid a steep drop in both COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive virus test rates.

Nearly 190 people were hospitalized because of the coronavirus Wednesday, down from a peak of more than 1,970 in late April. More than 45,400 people in the state have tested positive for the virus and 4,219 have died. 

Business owners and customers had mixed emotions about Wednesday's reopening, with many expressing excitement and others saying the virus still made them nervous.

At Work Out World in Glastonbury, fitness enthusiasts said they had been looking forward to returning to the gym for months.

"It just felt good to be back and moving around. You feel better," said Francine Sandler, a radiological technologist from Glastonbury who went to the gym four to five days a week before the pandemic. "You have to be careful, but you still have to live. If it wasn't clean and people weren't wearing masks, I wouldn't have gone in."

Businesses that were allowed to reopen Wednesday are limited to 50% of their capacity. Frequent cleaning and social distancing markers are required, employees must wear masks and officials continued to urge people over 65 to stay home because they are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Gyms were required to space exercise equipment at least 6 feet apart, or enforce a 12-foot distance rule if a customer wasn't wearing a mask. Restaurants are required to keep tables 6 feet apart, keep indoor waiting areas and buffets closed and are encouraged to use no-touch or disposable menus.

Some business owners said they weren't in a position to fully reopen Wednesday.

Anne Falkowski runs the Samadhi Yoga Studio in Manchester. She has pivoted to online classes and will continue offering those and some outdoor classes while figuring out how to use her limited classroom space. Her largest studio, she said, usually holds 20 to 30 students.

"With the social distancing requirements we can do about seven people and the teacher with masks," she said. "With masks off, we can really only do the teacher and one other person."

George Frantzis, co-owner of Quassy Amusement & Waterpark in Middlebury, said they are ready to reopen Saturday, but he has some concerns about customers, especially children, complying with social distancing and mask requirements.

"There are going to be those moments, especially if it's a 90-degree day, when people are going to drop their masks for a moment to take a breath of fresh air," he said. "It's just a matter of being patient with each other."


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A third reopening phase is expected sometime next month. Officials plan to increase the limit on indoor gatherings to 50 people, increase the limit on outdoor gatherings to 250, allow amphitheaters, race tracks and other outdoor venues to reopen at 50% capacity and allow fireworks shows, municipal park concerts and other outdoor gathers with 15 feet of space between blankets.

Connecticut's two tribal casinos, meanwhile, have begun to reopen more attractions, after partially opening June 1 despite the governor's initial opposition.

Mohegan Sun, owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribe, announced that several restaurants will begin offering dine-in service on Thursday and there are plans in the coming days to restart the comedy club and the race book, with various safety precautions. At least one bar at the casino has already opened.

Foxwoods Resort Casino, owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, has already reopened more casino space, shopping and hotel rooms, as well as an indoor go-kart track. Indoor seating at select restaurants, at 50% capacity, was scheduled to reopen on Wednesday.

Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed.