Westfarms Mall Keith M. Phaeuf / CTMirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont addressing Connecticut retailers via video conference from his home Thursday.

Gov. Ned Lamont assured Connecticut retailers Thursday that the surge in COVID-19 cases need not force the closure of stores and malls during the crucial Christmas shopping season so long as merchants adhere to public health rules.

Addressing the annual meeting of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, Lamont said merchants must prepare to be extra vigilant on Black Friday, the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy that can mean profit or loss for the year.

“I just really urge you to be strict,” Lamont said.

As cases surge, the Lamont administration is considering tweaking the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. But the governor said the data indicates that retailers can safely operate if they require masks, limit the number of shoppers in stores, and enforce social distancing in checkout lines.

“We were happy to hear that,” said Tim Phelan, the executive director of the retail trade group. “I think we needed reassurance.”

Lamont spoke from his home in Greenwich, where he is nearing the end of his first week in quarantine after a senior aide and a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID.

A public-health emergency declared in March and renewed in September gives the governor sweeping powers. At the outset of the pandemic, Lamont ordered the closure of schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters and non-essential retail.

“We’re much smarter right now about what makes a difference in terms of restrictions,” Lamont said. 

Connecticut loosened restrictions in three phases. 

On Oct. 8, indoor dining at restaurants was allowed to increase from 50% to 75% of capacity, as was the case for libraries, hair salons and personal services. Indoor performance-arts venues could reopen at 50% of capacity with requirements for masks and social distancing.

But Lamont tightened the restrictions again on Nov. 2, returning to what he called Phase 2.1. Restaurants returned to 50% capacity, with table limits of 8. Event venues were limited to 25 people indoors, though religious services could use 50% of capacity, up to 100 people.

Restaurants must close by 10 p.m.

Connecticut recorded 2,042 new COVID cases Wednesday and 13 deaths and 39 hospitalizations due to the disease. Hospitalizations for COVID in the state have tripled in just three weeks from 270  to 816.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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