The state of Connecticut is easing restrictions on social gatherings that were put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus amid COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday, and he also announced that the state's casinos plan to open as early as Saturday, days earlier than they originally planned.
The casinos, which closed because of the pandemic, previously had said they planned to open on June 1. They will still open to the public on June 1, however both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods will host invitation only soft openings this weekend.
“This allows our team to get used to the new protocols ahead of the partial reopening on Monday to the public,” Chuck Bunnell, Chief of Staff for the Mohegan Tribe wrote in a statement. “As part of that partial reopening, Mohegan Sun will have limited food offerings, alcohol beverage service on the gaming floor with disposable cups and straws and no smoking inside the building."
Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Rodney Butler, said that the soft reopening at Foxwoods will serve a similar purpose.
Governor Lamont pointed out that Connecticut's casinos plan to reopen early than those in neighboring states and even earlier than Las Vegas. The governor said at that he made progress with the casinos, but not as much as he would have wanted.
He said that one sign of progress is that the casinos will not be allowing guests from out of state to stay in their hotels at first. Butler clarified that they will only allow CT or RI guests to stay at their hotel. The governor also said that the state will be putting signs outside the casino to remind people who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 to stay home.
“That reminds people of the risk they are taking,” said Lamont.
Butler said that his team’s goal is to mitigate any risk. You can view their safety plans here. He added that Foxwoods has worked alongside the state, walking several members of the governor’s cabinet through their safety plan early this week and reacting to their recommendations. For example, Butler said that they will now be a non-smoking property for the first time in their history.
“They really appreciate a lot that we were doing. I think, end of the day, while we have made some progress, we will have to agree to disagree on some points,” said Butler.
The governor said he felt like the casino opening date should have been pushed later and that he felt pretty strongly that they should not serve alcohol inside, but he did not "get the positive response on that."
Butler said that after studying casinos that have already reopened across the country, they will follow industry standard and will continue to sell all beverages.
The team at Mohegan Sun will also not allow smoking inside. They said that they also toured members of the governors cabinet through their facility, writing in a statement that they, “welcomed some of their suggestions on ways to enhance our already robust safety plan.”
You can read more about Mohegan Sun’s safety plans here.
While the casinos will be open, they will not allow people from out of state to stay in their hotels.
Lamont said masks will be required inside and the casinos will offer outdoor dining only.
Mohegan Sun Unveils Casino Safety Measures
COVID-19 Hospitalizations Down
The state began reopening from cornonavirus-related closing on May 20 and one key piece of the state's plan to progress through the phases of reopening is that the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continues to decline.
At the beginning of the news conference, the governor said the state has 71 fewer COVID-19-related hospitalizations for the day before, which is 75 percent off the peak and it's one of the largest drops he's seen.
There were 203 new coronavirus cases reported on Friday, bringing the total to 41,762. Connecticut saw another 42 fatalities. The death toll now stands at 3,868.
State Eases Social Guidelines
To help slow the spread of the virus, the governor had limited social gatherings to no more than five people.
The governor said he is easing the restrictions as long as people follow the protocols and moving forward, inside gatherings can have of up to 10 people and outside gatherings can have up to 25, but people should continue to maintain social distancing.
Restrictions for Houses of Worship
Several faith leaders from across the state are taking part in the news conference.
While houses of worship were not subject to being closed due to the pandemic, the governor issued an executive order in March to add religious gatherings to the list of places that were limited to having more than 50 people.
Several houses of worship have been offering services outside and/or live-streaming amid the pandemic and they are planning for what comes next.
As religious facilities open, restrictions will be in place to limit occupancy to no more than 25 percent of capacity indoors, or fewer than 100 people, whichever is lower. Up to 150 people will be permitted outside.
Religious leaders who took part in the news conference said they will suspend choirs for the time being.