Thompson First Selectwoman Amy St. Onge and her husband, Jason, face a combined $1,000 fine after traveling to Oklahoma this month to visit their son, an active member of the U.S. Air Force who will soon be deployed overseas, in violation of Connecticut’s coronavirus travel restrictions.
Caleb St. Onge, 20, is currently stationed at Altus Air Force Base. Amy and Jason St. Onge flew to Oklahoma to visit with Caleb between Sept. 7-15.
“At this point, I hadn’t seen him in almost a year, and there’s a chance we won’t see him for at least another year,” Amy St. Onge said Monday. “That was really the only thing on my mind when we headed out.”
To avoid exposure to crowds, the couple purchased first-class tickets, kept to themselves in and around the airport and avoided restaurants. Upon arrival in Oklahoma, they traveled directly to the base and only spent time with Caleb and a few other servicemen.
“There was nothing going on in Oklahoma, so it was quite easy to kind of keep to yourself and maintain social distance from people,” St. Onge said. “We just we followed the same protocols that we would have here: wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene and the biggest factor being avoiding crowds.”
Oklahoma is currently one of 35 states included on Connecticut’s travel advisory list, all of which have have positive case rates higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or higher than a 10% test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average.
On Sept. 23, St. Onge received an email notifying her that she and Jason were being fined. She immediately called the state Department of Public Health to explain the circumstances of their trip. “I do plan on appealing because it’s my right to do so,” St. Onge said. “We’ll see where that takes us.”
Later that morning, St. Onge — a Republican who believes the fine was politically motivated — wrote on Facebook, “I was not aware that Oklahoma was on the list of restricted states. I know ignorance is no excuse. I am willing to pay the fine. I would accept a fine of 5 million dollars if it meant I could hug my son prior to his deployment. That’s where I stand on this issue.”
In the comments, Jason St. Onge wrote, “Someone felt it was important to report us to the State. I wish this person had the guts to come forward to us but I’m sure that would never happen. Regardless I will happily pay my $500 fine and would do it again to have the time spent with our son.”
Gov. Ned Lamont’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
DPH currently issues $500 fines for failure to self-quarantine after arriving from states on the the travel advisory list and failure to submit a mandatory travel health form.
Travelers are exempt from self-quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 72 hours before or after arriving in Connecticut; if they qualify as a particular category of essential worker; or if they have tested positive for COVID-19 within 90 days prior to arrival in Connecticut and have clinically recovered.
Anyone who receives a penalty can request a hearing before Acting DPH Commissioner Dr. Deidre S. Gifford within 10 business days of receiving the notice.
The first Connecticut residents to be fined for violating travel advisory rules were travelers returning from Florida and and Louisiana in August. Since then, additional fines have been levied against individuals for travel violations.
St. Onge said the circumstances of her trip should be considered in the appeal process. “It wasn’t a vacation to Disney World where we were exposed to crowds,” she said. “We weren’t in Miami Beach hanging out, having piña coladas on the beach with a lot of people around us. We were spending time with our son. Should there be special consideration? I think so.”
She also pointed out that town employees in Thompson and elsewhere have been considered essential workers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. “I have my own private office. I have very limited contact with the public. Most people call me or email me. I don’t have a lot of interaction with the public, and that should be a consideration as well.”
St. Onge also took issue with the term “advisory,” which she said “by definition, is just a recommendation that doesn’t have enforcement attached to it.”
“These are recommendations. These are guidelines. If it’s a travel mandate, then maybe it should be termed a travel mandate. But no, there was no there was no information provided to us on our trip either arriving in Oklahoma,” St. Onge said.
Michael Hamad can be reached at [email protected]
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