Gov. Ned Lamont announced the names of appointees to a task force focused on reopening the state on Thursday, but Indra Nooyi – co-chair of the advisory group – said the state will not begin to reopen businesses until sometime in June.
The announcement comes after protesters demanding the state reopen businesses conducted a drive-by protest at the Capitol and governor’s mansion on Monday. Some protesters were outside their vehicles and holding signs.
The 48-member panel is made up of scientists and health experts, representatives from the business community, education officials and government officials focused on when and how businesses will reopen.
“I’m as anxious to reopen our economy and get back to business as usual as everyone else, but if we don’t do this in a thoughtful way, all of our efforts to mitigate the spread of this virus to date will have been worthless,” Governor Lamont said in a press release.
The Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board will present a plan to the governor on May 20 — the date of Lamont’s previous reopening goal — and Nooyi said loosening of restrictions will happen in “very small steps” starting “sometime in June.”
Nooyi said the reopening could take place by geography or business sector to help ensure containment of the virus.
The Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group is co-chaired by Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi and co-chair of AdvanceCT, a nonprofit that works with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development to grow business in Connecticut. Albert Ko, professor of epidemiology at Yale serves as the other co-chair of the group.
Nooyi and Ko are also serving on a panel to work with other states like New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts on a regional approach to reopening the states. The Northeast, particularly New York, has been hard-hit by the virus.
Reopen Connecticut has representatives from the Connecticut business community that were severely affected by the shutdown, including the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Connecticut Restaurant Association, Connecticut Lodging Association and Connecticut Retailers Association.
The advisory group also includes union representatives from the AFL-CIO, Building Trades, SEIU, the Connecticut Education Association and American Federation of Teachers.
The announcement of the advisory panel members comes as Connecticut’s unemployment claims neared 400,000 – numbers not seen since the Great Depression.
“This group of medical professionals, local business representatives, professionals who work with our at-risk communities, and education officials will provide Connecticut with a valuable resource in our efforts to get our state moving again, while doing so in the safest and most sensible way possible,” Lamont said.
During a press conference Thursday, Lamont said he never closed down nonessential businesses and rather allowed them to continue operations without allowing the public into business locations to ensure social distancing. The governor said they are focused on finding ways to let those businesses get more people back to work.
Although restaurants are closed to the public, they can do take out and delivery services, for instance. Other businesses are doing curbside pickup or attempting to use online resources to keep some revenue flowing.
However, not being able to open their doors to the public has forced restaurants and many other retail services to lay off employees. Lamont said the restrictions on hospitality businesses resulted in a loss of 150,000 jobs and that most of the unemployment claims are coming from the hospitality sector.
But as the shutdown and recession continues, Connecticut faces a difficult fiscal situation moving forward with both lowered income taxes and sales taxes.
The National Governors Association is pushing for a federal stimulus bill to help states with their budget problems but Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said it might be better for states to be able to declare bankruptcy.
Lamont said the state is in a “good position, thanks to the Rainy Day Fund, but that’s not unlimited.”
“There’s no way we’re going to get this economy moving again if you have states across the country slash services and raise taxes,” Lamont said. “I think we’re in a relatively better position, thanks to our Rainy Day Fund, but that’s not unlimited and depending on how fast we can get our economy going again, we could be as some risk as well.”