Connecticut has imposed 42 fines for violations of the state’s COVID-19 travel advisory totaling $44,800 — with more than half of those travelers coming from North Carolina and Florida — according to data from the office of Gov. Ned Lamont.
Fines for failing to wear masks or observe distancing guidelines are issued at the municipal level, but local leaders say they have been reluctant to begin imposing them.
Under the travel advisory, travelers from states with high levels of coronavirus must fill out a form indicating their arrival, then quarantine for 14 days unless they have recently tested negative. After initially declining to enforce the advisory, Lamont later announced fines for those who didn’t complete the form or who declined to quarantine.
Of the 42 individuals who have been fined as of Sept. 29, most were charged either $1,000 or $2,000, though a few were penalized as little as $100, according to a list provided to the Courant. Nearly all of the violators lived in Connecticut — anywhere from Greenwich to Bloomfield to Putnam — while two lived out of state.
Thirteen of the 42 had traveled from North Carolina, while 10 had come from Florida. Overall, the travelers had arrived from 12 different states, plus Puerto Rico.
Max Reiss, a spokesperson for Lamont, said the fines, which began in August, have resulted from individuals reporting people around them for violations.
“It’s mainly just through whistle-blowers as of now,” Reiss said.
Fines for travel advisory violations are imposed after an investigation by the Department of Public Health, which contacts individuals who have been reported and attempts to verify whether they have indeed broken rules. Prosecutors then review the evidence and decide whether a fine would likely hold up on appeal, before informing violators of their fines. In the event of appeal, the sides schedule a hearing where they each may present evidence.
Local officials hesitant
Whereas fines related to the travel advisory fall under DPH’s authority, fines for those who don’t wear masks or who participate in unsanctioned gatherings are enforced at the local level. Reiss said the state is not tracking these fines and that he was unsure whether any had been imposed.
Many town officials say they’re hesitant to use these fines, except perhaps in extreme circumstances. Brenda Kupchak, first selectwoman of Fairfield, said last week her town would consider fines but would prefer to avoid them.
“I don’t want to go there, I would rather encouragement because I don’t think you can enforce your way out of this,” Kupchak said. “And realistically I don’t think any town can have a police department running around ticketing everyone they see without a mask on. It’s unwieldly.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said residents there have “overwhelmingly” abided by local and state guidelines, making fines unnecessary to this point.
“We strongly prefer not to fine people who aren’t following these guidelines and so far have not needed to use this tool,” Elicker said in an email Wednesday. “However if we identify persistent problems, it is helpful for us to have this tool to ensure the safety of our residents.”
West Hartford, one of the communities that lobbied Lamont to allow fines, also has not yet issued any, Mayor Shari Cantor said. Cantor said the town has lately seen “better compliance” with mask and social distancing rules, which she said could owe to the threat of fines.
Lamont announced in mid-September that he would, for the first time, allow towns to impose small fines on residents who violated mask-wearing or social distancing rules. Previously, the mildest enforcement of a COVID-19 violation had been a misdemeanor charge.
“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,” said Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer. “So they asked for this new tool, an infraction that was a bit of a step-down enforcement.”
Staff writer Emily Brindley contributed to this report.
Alex Putterman can be reached at [email protected]
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