Bridgeport toughens COVID regs, enforcement during red alert
BRIDGEPORT — Citing the rapid rise in local coronavirus cases, Mayor Joe Ganim Friday announced tougher rules and enforcement to curtail the illness’ spread without shutting down Connecticut's largest municipality and its economy.
Specifically, he’s rolled back capacity at restaurants, churches and private gatherings and spelled out the penalties for businesses violating mask policies — as much as a 30-day closure for multiple warnings.
“Bottom line is numbers are going up. They’re going up too fast. We don’t want to get behind on this thing,” the mayor said during a live noon-time Facebook address. “So we need to do this and do it together.”
Still, he added, “I don’t think there’s going to be a huge impact or difference on people’s lives. But it is an alarm bell that’s going off.”
After a steep reduction in COVID-19 infections and related hospitalizations and deaths from late spring through the summer, Connecticut over the past few weeks has seen a steady increase, with some cities and towns reaching red-alert status under the state’s new color-coded mapping system.
“If you’re a senior over 60, they’ve been pretty cautious and lucky,” Ganim said Friday of the infection data he had seen. “The youngest group, up to age 30, has gone up, but not as dramatically as ages 30 to 59. That’s where the number of cases have shot up.”
The main local policy changes — which Ganim asked be followed immediately — involve rolling back relaxed indoor capacity restrictions for businesses like restaurants and barbershops and other personal services, along with private gathering venues, houses of worship and municipal libraries.
When the pandemic first struck the state, residents were urged to stay home. Gradually in May, then June and lastly earlier this month, Gov. Ned Lamont allowed Connecticut to gradually re-open in three phases. The last of those allowed indoor capacities of 75 percent for many establishments, especially restaurants that can no longer count on the safest option of outdoor dining in the colder months.
Those capacity limits are being rolled back in Bridgeport to Phase 2’s 50 percent, Ganim said.
“No indoor waiting rooms,” he added.
Private indoor gatherings that had been allowed to host parties of up to 100 will have to revert back to 25 people, the mayor said, with inside religious services decreasing from the current 200 maximum to 100.
Ganim also asked food service establishments to end indoor dining at 10 p.m. and shutter by 11 p.m. In the spring, he had pushed a voluntary 8 p.m. curfew but did not put another curfew in place.
“We’re not there,” Ganim said. “We don’t want to get there.”
He advised establishments that may already not be doing so to try and make up for the contracted limits on how many customers they can have inside by offering expanded curbside, drive-thru, pickup and delivery options.
The mayor also unveiled a more specific enforcement plan with a scale of penalties. While the city for months has been temporarily shutting down businesses found to have violated health and safety rules — including one lounge just this week that hosted a packed birthday party — a set of enforcement guidelines was never formally made public.
“Businesses will be issued one warning for not enforcing mask requirements,” Ganim said Friday, referring to one of the key measures that, along with social-distancing, health experts advise prevents coronavirus transmission. “I want to do zero tolerance — which means you don’t even get one warning — but right now we’ll go with one warning.”
A second violation results in a seven-day closure and a third a two-week closure.
“If there’s a fourth, it will result in a closure up to 30 days,” the mayor said. ‘It’s a ‘one strike’ think. You’re going to get a warning, but from there your business could be seriously jeopardized.”
Any entity found to have hosted an overly large gathering will get a warning, with a repeat violation earning a one-month closure, then a three-month closure and then the suspension of all municipal licenses for up to half a year, Ganim said.
“I would ask businesses to begin immediately,” the mayor said. “I would ask residents to begin immediately.”
Though warning against gatherings during the upcoming holidays — including Halloween on Saturday — the mayor refrained from announcing any sort of a ban on door-to-door trick or treating by children. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has designated the traditional giving out of candy from homes as an “event to avoid.”
But the mayor did encourage alternatives to trick or treating that his administration has been publicizing for several days.
Ganim’s live appearance on Facebook also signaled that COVID-19 has again become a more alarming problem in Bridgeport. From when the pandemic began in mid-March through much of the spring, the mayor held daily or almost-daily online briefings.
“(The circumstances are) different this time than it was in March and April when many joined us on a daily basis for this,” the mayor acknowledged Friday. “I don’t know that we’re doing that (again), but I thought it was important to launch with as much information as we have.”
He said it will be “nice if we can get back to phase 3 if we do this right” but also noted the challenges faced by individual municipalities in deciding how best to tackle rising virus cases and whether that approach will prove effective.
“It’s great — and I mean this as a ‘thank you’ to the state — to allow us to have some local control, but it’s an added burden. And to a certain extent, a single municipality separated by an imaginary line that (has) tighter restrictions than maybe a neighboring community may create challenges in and of itself,” Ganim concluded.
“Ultimately, if this thing continues to go in the direction it is and more towns get into the red ... you may see the state completely across the board do what we’ve started to do in Bridgeport,” he said.