By Richard Kaufman
Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont released rules that eligible businesses falling under phase 1 of Connecticut’s reopening plans must follow during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Phase 1, which is slated to begin on May 20, focuses on the limited reopening of hair salons and barbershops, museums and zoos (outdoor only), offices, restaurants (outdoor only), and retail and malls.
“We’re working with the governor to see what we can do here locally around May 20 and we’ll try to have something ready to go in the next couple of weeks,” said First Selectman Fred Camillo. “There are some things we’re hoping to carry beyond the pandemic that would transform the way people do business and how it’s conducted in our business areas, especially in central Greenwich.”
The endeavor to re-open is two-fold, Camillo said, which is to return some normalcy to people’s lives and to keep them safe at the same time. One aspect of Phase 1 which Camillo believes is going to be important for the community is the partial reopening of restaurants for outdoor seating only, with proper social distancing and safety protocols.
“I think there are some people who are still nervous about doing it, which is understandable. But I think that if it’s done right and we have people spaced out and it’s outside, I think that’s going to be fine,” Camillo continued. “We want people out there working, we want people out there patronizing, we want people out there having some sense of normalcy restored but done so in a measured way. We’ve done extremely well seeing that we’re really close to a few hot zones. I don’t want to see us take any steps backwards.”
The town is also working with the Planning & Zoning Commission, Health Department, Police, Fire and Emergency Operations personnel to go over safe reopening plans for residents and businesses.
There are several issues that need to get resolved first in order to comply with the outdoor dining guidelines, such as preventing blockage of accessible exits and entrances, ensuring appropriate fire connections, securing any potential barriers, and ADA accessibility. There are also questions about how to properly barricade dining areas from vehicular traffic. According to Greenwich Planning & Zoning Director, Katie DeLuca, there are over 50 approved outdoor dining establishments in Greenwich, subject to renewal every year.
On Tuesday, Lamont issued an Executive Order which calls for expedited approval and permitting for expanded outdoor dining. Specifically, it allows municipalities to expedite changes to zoning amendments; allows the suspension and modification of certain permitting and approval processes for outdoor activities; allows restaurants with liquor licenses to serve outdoors only with food without applying for a separate patio or extension of use permit; and allows private clubs to sell alcohol only to members for pickup or delivery.
The Order also addresses the use of parking lots, sidewalks and vehicular rights of way.
Lamont intends to issue a separate Executive Order “in the coming days” providing for limited increased economic and recreational activity, including outdoor dining and outdoor retail, with conditions designed to protect public health. The Executive Orders from Lamont will also require action from the Board of Selectmen.
“Businesses, our local politicians, and the public at large appear to all want the same thing, which includes potentially closing roadways and allowing the use of sidewalks to provide the necessary room for outdoor dining and commerce,” DeLuca added. “There has been a strong collaborative effort for weeks now on behalf of the applicable town departments to effectuate the type of change that is needed to keep the economy going and supporting business.”
Camillo said Lamont is supportive of how Greenwich has handled the pandemic, and that the town has had a good rapport with the administration in navigating the coronavirus.
“[Lamont] is a very good partner in this because he asks questions, and we ask questions of him. Whether it’s Ned, or Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, they’ve been very good at getting back right away and actually reaching out to us sometimes unsolicited. We have a very good relationship.”
Greenwich Hospital is also looking to shift into the reopening stage.
With hospitalization numbers and COVID-positive cases declining across the state, Greenwich Hospital staff is beginning to feel some relief. At one point, the 200-bed facility had over 120 COVID-19 patients.
“We’re taking a very tiny breath. Our daily frontline staff is starting to feel some relief, and they’re also feeling encouraged because the more patients you discharge, and with less coming in, you’re starting to feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Chief Operating Officer of Greenwich Hospital, Diane Kelly.
At the same time, though, the Hospital is working hard on figuring out how to slowly and cautiously reopen some outpatient services that had previously been closed.
The Hospital will likely follow along with the May 20 date outlined by the governor, but small, non-invasive services could open up earlier if there’s adequate Personal Protective Equipment for staff and patients, and proper protocols such as social distancing and mask-wearing are in place.
Kelly said this transition period and figuring out what the “new world order” looks like is complex.
“It’s a little easier to shut things down. But when you’re talking about having to reopen things and do it in a way you have not operated before, every area might be a little different. It’s far more complex, and it has to be done in a far more measured and thought out way as you analyze the data as it becomes available,” Kelly said. “The added pressure is everybody wants it now. That could be the worst thing we could all do. We’re excited, but we also know we have a lot of work ahead of us. We know we will accomplish that work, but it will be gradual and it will be well thought out.”
More information and guidelines about Phase 1 of reopening in Connecticut can be found at ct.gov/coronavirus.