Chesprocott: COVID-19 numbers ease uP, retail businesses to reopen soon, local health districts anxious to get state contact tracing guidelines
By Dan Nowak
CDTC Communications Staff
CHESHIRE—While the impact of COVID-19 in Cheshire, Wolcott and Prospect put a strain on the staff at Chesprocott Health District in March and April, Chesprocott Director Maura Esposito and her staff are feeling a little more upbeat these days.
The number of COVID confirmed cases in the three towns Chesprocott oversees are easing up and plans are being made for the slow return of retail businesses, especially with the soft re-opening of local restaurants with outdoor dining.
“April was like a fog, but now we’re getting closer to being over the hump,” Esposito said. “Today (Wednesday) we have 266 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 21 fatalities, but we’re slowing down. We only have one case reported today and haven’t had any fatalities in our three towns the last three days. There was a time we were averaging 5-7 COVID-19 cases per day and now we are down to one or two a day (all three towns combined).
“Hopefully, this is a sign we are on the downward part of the curve. Obviously, things could change. But what is happening now is a direct result of people in our district taking social distancing seriously. People have stepped up. They are wearing masks and they are staying home. All those things have contributed to the downward trend. Now, we’re preparing to get some of our businesses back open.”
The target date for retail businesses to begin with a soft opening is May 20. One of the businesses hardest hit by the impact of COVID-19 is restaurants. They will have a gradual opening with outdoor dining and no inside dining.
Only restaurants with outdoor dining permits from Chesprocott and permits from local Zoning Departments will be allowed to have outdoor dining.
“We are working on a limited opening for retail businesses like salons and restaurants and waiting for Gov. Lamont to submit planning info,” Susan Lonczak, Chesprocott chief sanitarian, said. “Restaurants will be allowed to do outdoor dining with limited capacity seating while still doing social distancing.
“Everyone is starting to plan for this and we have our own ideas on how to do it. But we still need to see the governor’s planning information. The important thing to note is not every restaurant can just put tables and chairs outside for outside dining. They need to have the proper permission to do it.”
Restaurants like the Victorian House and Viron Rondo Osteria who have permission and already offer outdoor dining will be among those in town allowed to reopen.
“People at restaurants can’t just grab tables and seats and put them in their parking lot and call that outdoor dining,” Lonczak said. “First, that would be a health hazard because you wouldn’t want someone driving through a parking lot and hit someone. They need permission to hold outdoor dining."
Lonczak also said businesses will have to follow OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines when they reopen. The Chesprocott staff will be putting together a list of restaurants that have approval for outdoor services.
“With business re-openings approaching, we are figuring the best plan of attack for a smooth reopening,” Lonczak said. “The first two weeks we (Chesprocott) will visit businesses to make sure they are complying with guidelines like capacity restrictions and social distancing. We will visit restaurants to make sure they have the proper permits to conduct outdoor dining.
“This has been an unchartered time for businesses who have been under duress and suffering economically. We know it’s been tough and we want businesses to reopen, but we need to do it slowly with the proper guidelines once the governor produces specific documentation on how he wants it done. Restaurants, salons, office buildings and other businesses will all reopen with guidelines. While everything will reopen, things will also look different everywhere with some limitations."
Esposito said she is looking forward to starting the slow process of getting things back to some sort of normalcy. But like all officials, she is taking a wait and see approach.
“Northeast health officials and leaders, especially in the tri-state area of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, are watching the other states that have decided to open early,” Esposito said. “We are watching these states open up and we are looking at what happens to you. We will be learning from their lessons and what impact there is with opening early.
“Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are united with a strong public health presence. A lot of decisions are being made by economics, but there are public health concerns. Public health and the well-being of people are my concerns."
Lastly, extensive contact tracing statewide is expected to begin soon. On Wednesday, the Connecticut Health Department had a web meeting scheduled with all local health districts to finalize state guidelines to get it done. This includes using many levels of technology to do the job, a daunting task seeing that most health districts have a limited staff of 5-7 people. Chesprocott has a staff of six.
Dan Nowak is chairman of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee's Communication Relations/IT Committee, a volunteer position. He is a Cheshire Parks and Recreation Commissioner and has been a sportswriter at the New Haven Register for 36 years.