Connecticut is cracking down on coronavirus-related violations through a series of new fines aimed at residents who flout the state’s masking and gathering mandates, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday.
When the new rules go into effect, residents could be fined $100 for violating the mask mandate, $250 for attending a large, unsanctioned event and $500 for organizing a large, unsanctioned event. Currently, the state has capped events at 25 people indoors or 100 people outdoors.
The new fines will be enacted through an executive order from the governor. The state’s chief operating officer, Josh Geballe, said that the order is likely to be issued Monday evening. Geballe said the state had not yet decided when the order would go into effect, but that it would be this week.
Geballe said the new fines were born out of a collaboration between state and local officials, including local law enforcement and health departments.
Currently, with the exception of a $1,000 fine that can be imposed for violation of the state’s travel advisory, the mildest enforcement of a coronavirus violation is a misdemeanor charge. And because a misdemeanor charge seems overly punitive to some local officials, Geballe said many have felt that they had no realistic way of enforcing the state’s mandates.
“There wasn’t really much that was being done, because many people viewed [a misdemeanor charge] as excessively harsh for failing to wear a mask if you couldn’t socially distance,” Geballe said. “So they asked for this new tool, an infraction that was a bit of a step-down enforcement.”
Geballe said the fines will be “another set of tools” for local officials — including law enforcement and public health officials — to enforce public health measures.
Some towns had already enacted their own local fine systems. For instance, The Courant reported in May that the town of Simsbury had enacted a $250 municipal fine for violations of the mask and social distancing orders. But the state’s Monday announcement will create a uniform policy across the state.
“It’s come up over and over again, to the point where we felt it was an appropriate thing to do,” Geballe said.
Positivity rate still above 1%
Also on Monday, the state reported 569 new coronavirus cases since Friday, out of a total of 48,964 tests.
That means the state’s positivity rate was again above 1%, at nearly 1.2% for the past three days — continuing a concerning trend for the state, which has seen rising numbers of coronavirus cases at the same time as schools and colleges reopen.
From mid-July to early September, the state’s positivity rate rarely broke 1% and, when it did, it dipped back below 1% within a day or two. But on Wednesday, the state’s positivity rate hit 1.5%, and by Monday still had not dropped back below 1%.
Lamont acknowledged that Monday’s data included some “big numbers,” but said that was partially because the report included three days’ worth of information.
“I think the numbers are still trending in the right direction,”he said.
The state has now reported a total of 54,895 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
The state on Monday also reported 13 additional hospitalizations since Friday, for a total of 64 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. There were also five new coronavirus-related deaths over the weekend, according to the state data, for a total of 4,485 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Reworking the travel advisory
Alongside the new fine structure, Lamont on Monday also announced a simplification of the state’s travel advisory.
Currently, the state’s advisory requires any traveler arriving from a hot spot area to self-quarantine for two weeks. The current rules also allow select groups of people — such as essential workers and those traveling for a funeral — to present a negative coronavirus test instead of self-quarantining.
But under the newly streamlined rules, any traveler will be allowed to present a negative test instead of quarantining.
“Over time, the exceptions had kind of built up to the point where it became hard for people to understand, so we’ve significantly simplified it here, which we think will be helpful,” Geballe said.
A state spokesperson said the new rules are expected to go into effect sometime this week.
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