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Lamont could ease COVID-19 restrictions on commercial venues starting March 19

If Connecticut continues to see declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Ned Lamont plans to allow increased capacity for private events at commercial venues starting next month.

The governor on Tuesday warned, however, that the presence of different strains of the virus poses a risk to Connecticut’s progress and to the further loosening of restrictions.

“I can’t give you any guarantees, but right now the trends are good and that’s why we’re giving you this reopening for events starting on March 19,” Lamont said during a virtual news briefing.

Indoor capacity for private events at commercial venues would be increased to 50%, capped at 100 people. Outdoors, the capacity would be up to 200 people.

Earlier this month, Lamont announced he was allowing restaurants to stay open an hour later, until 11 p.m., and he indicated Tuesday that he likely would be making an announcement at his Thursday briefing about loosening restrictions on attendance at sporting events. He said he is also considering scaling back travel restrictions but would consult with other governors in the region before doing so.

Lamont reported Tuesday that Connecticut’s daily positivity rate continues to be below 3% — currently at 2.83% — in line with what neighboring states are experiencing. Hospitalizations declined by 12 over the past 24 hours, and coronavirus-linked deaths increased by two. Lamont warned that there could be a lag in data due to the holiday weekend.

Also on Tuesday, Lamont heard from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that the so-called U.K. variant of the virus could make up 50% of all infections in the U.S. by the end of March. Connecticut has at least 42 confirmed cases of the U.K. variant.

The state reported its first case of the so-called South African variant Monday. Given that the person, a resident of Fairfield County between the ages of 60 and 70, did not travel recently, officials assume the patient came into contact with the variant in Connecticut.

Contact tracing is ongoing, and the state anticipates other cases of the variant will be identified, said Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health.

“Amidst the good news I’m giving you in these numbers, those are the two wild cards that we continue to follow,” Lamont said of the variants.

Connecticut continues to outperform most other states in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Lamont reported Tuesday that 66% of residents 75 and older have been vaccinated. The rate is 23% for those 65 to 74, who recently became eligible to get the vaccine. Among them is the governor, who received his first dose of the vaccine Tuesday.

"I got the vaccine because I’m old,” the 67-year-old Lamont quipped.

The state has administered 691,846 does of the vaccine so far — 473,784 first doses and 218,062 second doses.

The state’s weekly vaccine supply will increase by 22% to about 72,000 first doses starting next week. Lamont said he expects that won’t be a one-time increase and that the state will continue to see more supply.

Lamont said he plans to make an announcement in about 10 days on the next group of residents who will be eligible to receive the vaccine, which is expected to include essential workers.

In New London County, 44 people are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital reported Tuesday that it was treating 20 coronavirus patients while Westerly Hospital was treating four. Total coronavirus-linked deaths and cases in the county stood at 399 and 18,500, respectively.

j.bergman@theday.com

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