Bridgeport marks vacation with cancellations caused by COVID

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BRIDGEPORT – Even though coronavirus cases increased in late fall, Raul Laffitte and his colleagues who run the Cuban Lyceum were hoping they could still celebrate a relatively normal holiday season.

The club went ahead and hosted a Christmas dinner / dance event on December 18th. But dozens have chosen not to participate in the festivities.

“Usually I had 150, 180, once we had almost 200 people,” Laffitte recalled this week.

But that night there were 92 guests. The others stayed on the sidelines, concerned about local and national spikes in COVID infections.

A week later, the high school announced on social media that it was canceling its New Year’s party. Attendees began to withdraw and organizers decided it was better to be safe than risk spreading the disease. .

“The first group that canceled was a group of Cubans from New York,” Laffitte said. “They bought four tables – 24 people. They canceled because of COVID. They worry about it. And then I started getting calls from Bridgeport who booked tables.

Laffitte said a toy giveaway on January 6 – Three Kings Day – would also not take place.

“We are afraid,” he said. “Too many people in one place. “

Like the state as a whole, Connecticut’s largest city, after experiencing some relief from the global pandemic this year thanks in part to vaccines, is once again rocked by disease and fear of it. Various private and public organizations and institutions that in many ways returned to the status quo after state-imposed shutdowns and safety regulations in 2020 and early 2021 are once again facing serious health concerns, a loss of income and general uncertainty as the new year approaches.

The most contagious omicron variant is to blame, along with unvaccinated people and people generally lowering their guard, experts said.

“We have had several cancellations. December has been dismal for me, ”said Shiran Nicholson, who directs Knowlton event location, artist studios and mural park in Bridgeport. “The events of January are running out of steam.”

“We have no idea where it will go now,” said Nick Roussas, owner of Frankie’s Diner, who again sees less traffic in the dining room and more take-out orders from customers trying to avoid all contact with others.

Dan Onofrio, chair of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, said members – from manufacturers to catering establishments – who were already struggling to fill positions are now also facing employees who test positive.

“These people cannot come to work, so it takes even more pressure on their production,” said Onofrio. “Many restaurants have significantly reduced their hours. “

“We’re just trying to get through what I’m guessing to be a four to six week period (increased cases) and we’ll come out of it a lot stronger,” said John Torres, whose family in November opened the old Acoustic. as a renovated and renamed Park City Music Hall, but had to postpone some recent shows. “(But) nobody knows. I do not know.”

As of October 30, according to state data, Bridgeport had only 9.3 infections per 100,000. As of mid-December this number had increased to 55.9 and from Christmas day, exploded to 122.6. At the same time, the local vaccination rate has gradually increased, but remains lower than that of the surrounding municipalities – 66.55% as of December 29.

Even without those numbers, the number of event cancellations this holiday season was proof that the coronavirus was spreading again and was causing concern.

On the same day, the Cuban Lyceum hosted their low-attendance Christmas party, the Greater Bridgeport Symphony tells ticket holders to stay home after that night’s concert at the Klein Memorial Auditorium, which was broadcast live instead. This would have been only the third in-person show since the pandemic hit Connecticut in March 2020.

Mark Halstead, executive director of the symphony, said this week that in routine rapid COVID testing two staff members were found to be infected.

“A year ago we would have canceled, but because of COVID we had developed this capability (online),” said Halstead. “We started this season knowing something like this could happen. “

Another performance is not scheduled until March, giving organizers time to assess the direction of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Lafitte said the group and the disc jockey he booked for New Years Eve had agreed to come to high school in mid-February so he hopes cases will be out. again down and that the Cuban club will be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Hugh Hallinan, operator of the Downtown Cabaret Theater, doesn’t have the same luxury when the time comes. After reopening in August and producing shows in late summer and fall, COVID on December 22 forced the cancellation of the last ten performances of The Santa Story.

But, unlike the symphony, the theater does not have much lull in its program. An ABBA tribute concert is scheduled for January 15, and Rapunzel is supposed to launch the next day.

“Cinemas can’t work that way,” Hallinan said of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. “The shows were meant to continue, not to be canceled. We work with a very thin margin on a good day.

Nicholson said nearly two years of closures and pandemic uncertainties have made it difficult to attract businesses to Knowlton.

“We’re like a car with a bad carburetor. Every time it starts, something happens to stifle it, ”he said, noting that not only the lack of bookings impacted the health of his business, but also its ability to sell. advertising.

“My marketing manager (said) ‘give me pictures.’ Well, we didn’t do anything. There is nothing we can do, ”Nicholson said.

At Park City Music Hall, Torres had to postpone a few acts “due to COVID in their camps.” He said the venue was taking all kinds of precautions, such as requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test, but many people are still staying at home.

“There’s almost like this soft lockdown that they’re pushing against each other,” Torres said. And, he said, he can understand given the uncertainty of the current direction of the pandemic.

“You’re not going to buy tickets to come in two weeks if you don’t know where we’re going (with the infection rate),” he said. “We try to stay open. This is the only way to move forward. And we try to do everything we can to make the environment as safe as possible. … We don’t pressure anyone to come out. But if you want, we’re here. Our staff are 100 percent masked. And that’s kind of where we’re at.

Onofrio said his feeling is that businesses across the region are all feeling the same way and are trying to “roll with the punches” and keep staff and the public as healthy as possible without closing their doors again. He encouraged more people to get vaccinated and also to wear masks and to distance themselves socially.

“I just noticed this holiday season a lot more people with fewer masks,” he said. “I think we’re a little lax.”

Religious institutions and the municipal government are also deciding how best to respond to the current epidemic.

Brian Wallace, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, said that in recent months there has been a “gradual reconstruction of attendance” and in-person involvement in parishes in Fairfield County and that the attendance was good at both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day masses. But, Wallace continued, leaders recognize the “bewildering” increase in COVID cases and are ready to take action if necessary.

“The bishop will summon the leadership staff early next week and make an assessment of the current situation in the diocese,” Wallace said. “It’s very clear now, so many people are either facing some kind of infection or looking for (COVID) testing. So we’ve made a commitment from the start to constantly reassess and that’s what we’re going to do.

Rowena White, director of communications for Mayor Joe Ganim, said many city offices will revert to hybrid staffing models, with some staff working from home on certain days when possible. She said the public may also have to schedule appointments before visiting certain departments.

White has confirmed that there have been non-serious COVID cases among staff. She did not immediately have up-to-date vaccination numbers. As of September 27, Ganim had required all municipal workers to be vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination, and by the end of October, about 800 employees, or 60 percent, had received their vaccines.

City Council will once again hold the regular Monday meeting twice a month online. Just a few weeks ago, President Aidee Nieves said she wanted the legislature to resume meeting in person in January – he has been holding teleconferences since March 2020 – but will now wait.

Members have faced criticism for hosting a face-to-face taxpayer-funded Christmas party on December 18 at the golf course restaurant.

“A lot of people are staying away right now,” Nieves said this week. “Although I insisted that we (meet in person), I don’t think it’s a safe bet.”

Also recently, the Ganim board and administration celebrated the end of a weeks-long effort to grant millions in federal COVID aid from last winter’s US bailout to businesses and nonprofits. Hallinan said that, unfortunately, it is not too early to start thinking about the additional financial assistance that could be made available to help establishments get through this winter.

“We didn’t get out of the woods,” Hallinan said.


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