“The biggest hurdle is going to be the consumer,” says Lamont in Interview with CT Examiner

As the state begins phase one today of reopening the economy, in an interview with CT Examiner, Governor Ned Lamont said that he expects the return of consumers to be slow and making a profit to be a challenge for businesses across the state.

“The biggest hurdle is going to be the consumer, but it’s a good thing that the consumer is cautious. I don’t want Wednesday to look like the end of prohibition,” said Lamont on Tuesday. “I think it is going to be tough, but you have to start somewhere, don’t you? People will build their confidence.”

Over the last month as he has planned for phase one with the help of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Committee, Lamont said he heard constantly that he was moving too fast, and not fast enough.

“There are business owners who say hurry up, we can’t wait and others who yell slow down you’re putting me at risk,” said Lamont. “Employers can and will work through the varying concerns of their employees and customers to make this work.”

Lamont pointed to Electric Boat which implemented repetitive testing and mask wearing for all employees reporting to work over the last ten weeks. At first the employees didn’t want to come in, Lamont said, but with the precautions of testing many have grown to be more confident.

Lamont hopes the same will be true for consumers and workers across the state now that testing has grown to more than 45,000 tests a week and is steadily increasing. The tests, however, are still only available to those showing symptoms, healthcare workers and individuals in at-risk categories including residents of urban areas, nursing homes and detention centers. For those with no symptoms in the suburbs, the message is still to wait.

“Maybe ideally you’d be able to test everybody on a weekly basis, but in the meantime we need to prioritize the number of tests for the highly vulnerable populations,” Lamont said.

The goal, Lamont said, is to move toward doing more broad-based asymptomatic testing, but even as testing is increased, the statewide strategy will not change for regions with localized flares of positive COVID-19 cases.

“Our policy will continue to be to do everything from a statewide basis,” Lamont said.

Instead of identifying flare ups through testing and altering policy on a regional or local level to meet the data, the focus will be on tracing each contact for every positive case and recommending those individuals self-quarantine for two weeks in an attempt to stop the spread.

Lamont said that the metric to define a flare up would be a hospital with more than 20 percent of its intensive care patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

As the state reopens, Lamont said his administration would be monitoring hospital capacity. If a hospital approaches more the 20 percent threshold he would adjust state resources – such as personal protective equipment – to match those needs. He is not planning to adjust policy on a state or local level in response to a flare up.

“When we look at states like Georgia and Ohio, there, flare ups are not related to salons or barber shops, they are related to nursing homes, prisons and those places where at-risk populations tend to be,” Lamont said. “Those are where I worry most about.”  

Asked about his approach to enforcing executive orders, which unlike many governors has not included the use of police or state troopers, Lamont said that he thought the public had so far benefited from the approach.

“I’m not big on a heavy police presence to enforce the rules, I think it creates more fear and our residents have been pretty good,” he said. “But, I’m getting worried, people are getting a little more urgent.”

For residents or business owners that are having trouble with others not following the rules in place, Lamont has set up a 2-1-1 hotline to reach a dispatcher in these cases.

“I’m hoping I won’t have to use police. I like people understanding why the rules are in place and would prefer that we all just proceed with caution,” Lamont said.

Lamont said that he has tried to keep the shutdown, and now the reopening, as apolitical as possible — he has only involved state legislators through a weekly question and answer session — be he hopes that at some point this summer legislative leaders will schedule a special session to address some of the outstanding concerns, especially the budget deficit.

But, he is hoping that special session can be done virtually.

“I need them to be in session, but I wish they’d learn to do it all on zoom,” he said. “The idea of having 151 of them packed in a room, doesn’t make my day.”