A lot can change in a month. In early May, Connecticut residents were still mostly quarantined. Businesses, except those deemed essential, remained closed. And short of taking walks and runs, or visiting parks, there were few options to socialize or get outside.

Now, approaching the middle of June, many have returned to restaurants for outdoor dining on the cusp of the second phase of Connecticut’s reopening, scheduled for June 17. And across the state line in New York City, perhaps the area most ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, a return to normalcy has also begun.

As many as 400,000 people — in construction, manufacturing and retail — returned to work Monday as the city’s first of four phases of reopening took effect. After more than three months in quarantine, it’s likely a necessary step for the city to take. But it comes with certain risks and challenges for public officials, who now must manage a growing number of people using public transportation and occupying common spaces.

Those challenges extend to areas of Connecticut, like Fairfield County, that were hardest-hit by the virus and where the majority of cases could be traced back to New York City. And as Connecticut prepares to enter its second phase of reopening, the question lingers: Could the New York City reopening prompt a second spike here?

“We are nervous. I think anytime there is a change in the behaviors of our community, we get a little concerned about what will happen,” said Kerry Eaton, chief operating officer for Nuvance Health. “We are hoping that our communities will continue to practice good infectious prevention procedures — hand washing, social distancing — the steps taken that seemed to have had a positive effect.”

In addition to Connecticut’s second-phase plans, New York’s reopening roughly coincides with the start of summer and the large, nationwide protests of police brutality in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.

“Now’s the time that we’re sort of cautiously awaiting what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Zane Saul, chairman of infectious diseases at Bridgeport Hospital. “Are people going to behave themselves, wear masks, continue to adhere to social distancing and hopefully, therefore, not see a surge of COVID cases? Or are people going to get caught up in their newfound freedoms, the summertime, and not be as careful as we need to be?”

Public health officials are also concerned. Representatives from Stamford and Norwalk echoed Saul and Eaton, asking residents to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“Any phase of reopening — locally, regionally or nationally — brings some increased risk and requires communities to increase their vigilance, follow public health guidance, and take personal precautions,” Norwalk Director of Health Deanna D’Amore said. “We encourage individuals to keep their physical distance, wear a cloth face covering, wash their hands often, and stay home if they feel sick.”

Arthur Augustyn, communications assistant for the city of Stamford, said it was likely New York residents were already traveling to Fairfield County. But with increased exchange of bodies over state lines, wearing masks and maintaining proper hand hygiene are particularly important.

The reopening also carries with it serious implications for train conductors and engineers working for Metro-North, as ridership is expected to increase from Connecticut as people return to work.

In Greenwich, the downtown building for the main train station will reopen at 6 a.m. Thursday.

The platforms have remained open throughout the coronavirus outbreak, but the station building has been closed since March. Metro-North Railroad requested that the building reopen and said there will be staff on hand to assist commuters from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday as trains are added to the schedule.

Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo said commuters should remain vigilant on social distancing and wear masks on trains.

“As more businesses and public facilities such as the Greenwich train station reopen, it is imperative that we continue to maintain social distancing as much as possible,” he said.

Metro-North employees recently refused to sign up for upcoming shifts, citing health concerns as trains have become more crowded in recent weeks and requesting a return to full service, to allow riders more options and hopefully alleviate crowding. The move has escalated a labor dispute between Metro-North management, which claims employees are merely voicing their grievances over lost pay as service has been scaled back.

Metro-North, which reported a drop in ridership as high as 92 percent, has recently increased its number of trains, but is still not running at full service.

Saul, while acknowledging the risk associated with returning to normalcy, added that continuing stringent social distancing measures is not necessarily a successful strategy to beat the pandemic. Herd immunity — in which a majority of a population has antibodies protecting against a disease — is crucial and can only be achieved through measured exposure. At this point, Connecticut is still far from achieving herd immunity, Saul said.

“By safely going out and getting into the world a little bit, we will have a chance to develop some herd immunity here, which would help to protect the public,” Saul said. “If we can get the number of people with antibodies up to 70 percent, that would be a really positive thing and would help us get through a potential wave in the fall. We’re cautiously optimistic. But I think we have no choice, we have to start opening things up.”

Still, Saul and Eaton said a second wave is likely. But the severity of that wave and what effect it may have are still very much uncertain.

“We’re just through our first wave, so we don’t know what we’re going to get next,” Saul said. “I’d like to think it’ll be less severe. But we could be looking at COVID as something like influenza. Every season, every year, we may have a different strain.”

Eaton said she and other hospital administrators have been actively preparing for a potential second wave. During the first wave, when hospitals were most stressed, she said lessons were learned as to where to reallocated staff, how to build additional intensive care units and best treat patients while keeping front-line workers safe.

She said she’d been heartened by the adherence to safety guidelines — like wearing masks — that she’d seen. Based on those observations, she’s cautiously optimistic, even as Connecticut and New York begin to reopen and protests continue.

And Saul said similarly, that the lessons learned during the first wave will make any second round of the virus more easy to manage.

“It’s going to be much easier,” Saul said. “All the processes are in. I think a lot of the fears have been alleviated. Everybody was really frightened at the beginning. I think everybody feels a lot more comfortable with PPE (personal protective equipment) — knowing that they’re being careful. And we’re better clinically at identifying patients with COVID and how to treat them, though options are still extremely limited. I think we’ve got a better handle on it, so I think we would be much more prepared for a second wave.”

Connecticut Media Group