The past seven months have been nothing short of crazy, and it’s taken its toll both economically and psychologically. The mandated shutdown in March impacted millions of Connecticut families and almost 15% of the state’s workforce filed unemployment claims during the pandemic – the sixth highest rate nationally, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

That said, the state has also been among the fastest to recover, which undoubtedly is a testament to early action from state authorities, increased testing and management of positive cases, and a continued effort from the state’s population to follow safety protocols, including distancing and wearing masks even during the first two phases of the state’s re-opening plan. That’s resulted in the state’s infection rate remaining well below that national average and allowed many activities to resume safely.

As a result, we reached Phase 3, which will further relax some of the restrictions that have been in place, allowing greater participation in certain activities, and hopefully bringing additional income opportunities for those looking for work or whose shifts have been reduced.

“Connecticut has earned it in terms of being able to maintain low infection rates, led by public health and metrics,” said Governor Ned Lamont.

Lamont also noted, though, that changing weather is also a driving factor. Since May, with the first phase of re-opening, restaurants have been encouraged to provide as much outdoor dining as possible. In many places, sidewalks, parking lots, and even street parking spots have been barricaded to allow for additional outdoor seating. It’s helped many of them stay open, but many have continued to struggle, along with other recreational facilities. Moving into Phase 3 and further relaxing some restrictions will hopefully instill additional public confidence in participating in activities they may have been avoiding.

Lamont made it clear, though, that as restrictions continue to be relaxed, health and safety protocols that have helped the state keep its infection rate low will continue to be in effect. That includes wearing masks, distancing, plexiglass barriers, and other elements that help protect both workers and customers.

Key components of Phase 3 changes include:

• Restaurants, personal services, hair salons, barber shops, and libraries will be allowed to move to 50% capacity, provided they are able to do so while following other safety requirements.

• Outdoor event venues, such as amphitheaters, sports venues, and race tracks, are able to move to 50% capacity.

• Indoor performing arts venues are being allowed to open at 50% capacity. These had previously remained closed, mainly because the economics of operating these facilities simply don’t make it feasible with lower numbers.

• Indoor private social and recreational gatherings held in commercial venues will be allowed to accommodate 50% of capacity with a 100-person maximum. Events at private residences will continue to have a 25-person cap. Outdoor activities will move to 150 people for social and recreational events. This may be one of the most important changes, as it makes many events, like weddings, holiday gathering, and other similar activities possible.

• Religious gatherings and graduations will be allowed indoors at 50% capacity, with a maximum of 200 attendees. Similar outdoor events will be uncapped in terms of capacity. In all cases, masks and distancing continue to be required.

• Bars and nightclubs will remain closed, due to the potential for outbreaks.

This is all positive news for the state’s workforce and residents, but officials have not been shy about warning that, if people fail to follow the safety practices that have kept infection rates low, stricter restrictions will be reinstated. The state’s travel and quarantine requirements also remain in effect, with 35 states and territories currently on the advisory list.