Re-Open Westport Advisory Team discuss reopening for local businesses

An exterior of Westport Town Hall in Westport, Conn., on Friday Apr. 17, 2020.

An exterior of Westport Town Hall in Westport, Conn., on Friday Apr. 17, 2020.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — In its second meeting, the Re-Open Westport Advisory Team discussed challenges local businesses and the community may face in reopening, from social distancing to an influx of people buying locally.

“We are not trying to move at a quicker pace than the governor,” Re-Open Westport Advisory Team Chair Jen Tooker said at a meeting on Monday. “What we’re trying to do is bridge the inevitable gap between communication that comes from the state on phased re-openings and the questions our business owners and community have when we actually try to operationalize those recommendations.”

Tooker was joined by state Sen. Will Haskell, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, state Sen. Tony Hwang, state Rep. Gail Lavielle and other local dignitaries for the video meeting.

Steinberg said a half dozen hair salons have voiced concern to him about re-opening on May 20, which Gov. Ned Lamont has marked for the first phase of reopening the state. Steinberg said the town will have to communicate state recommendations and caution businesses against re-opening if they are unable to provide a safe space.

“We’re all concerned about re-opening 10, 11 days from now,” he said. “I think we’re going to learn as we go along and we have to be prepared to be adaptable to what we’re actually experiencing on the ground.”

Haskell said he confirmed with David Lehman, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, that a business will still be eligible for state programs if they choose to not re-open.

“I think that’s so crucial as folks do face a lot of fear,” he said. “Especially in an industry where social distancing is nearly impossible with hair salons.”

Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, said though May 20 is coming up it doesn’t mean every business has to reopen on that date.

“It would be prudent to do this right,” Mandell said. “Worst thing we could do is have someone open incorrectly.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner and Westport resident, said as the state begins to reopen, he believes shopping behaviors will change with people seeking to do more locally.

“We’re not going to be looking to go into a big city to do that,” Gottlieb said. “That presents both an opportunity and challenge to the local community.”

Gottlieb said moving services outside and taking advantage of outdoor settings can help to provide lower risk. How testing is held in the community will be important, he added.

“I’m of the belief a lot of businesses are going to represent they’re taking certain precautions within their businesses,” he said. “I think you’re going to see places of employment try to move testing into those settings.”

Gottlieb said there could be a chance of a new outbreak in the fall, but improved screening and treatment could help to improve conditions then.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a licensed vaccine until, at the very least, the second half of 2021 and that’s aggressive and optimistic,” he said. “But we could have a vaccine available in tens of millions of doses heading into 2021 that we could deploy on emergency use basis to try to ring-fence outbreaks if we have those.”

He said more and better testing will also help see how other groups, such as children and the community, have truly been affected.

“The more that we can bring testing into the community and have greater density of testing in the community, the more we can have a sense of what the background risk is in this community,” Gottlieb said.