Towns, cities have discretion on enforcement of emergency orders

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

MIDDLETOWN — How vigorously new fines for violating coronavirus-related orders are used to enforce the state directives will vary by municipality.

Gov. Ned Lamont said on Sept. 16 that the state’s 169 towns and cities will have discretion to issue infraction citations for violations of a mask wearing mandate and attendance limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

“It is totally up to them,” he said.

Lamont issued an executive order on Sept. 15 that authorized fines of $100 for violating mask orders, $500 for organizing events that exceed size limits, and $250 for attending events that exceed size limits.

Previously, violators of his emergency orders could be only charged criminally for a misdemeanor or felony offense. An infraction is not a criminal offense, and people have the option of paying a fine, or contesting the citation in court.

Lamont said local authorities now can decide to issue warnings, cite violators for infractions, or arrest individuals on a misdemeanor charge of violating his emergency declarations.

“That is just one more arrow in their quiver. It is something they can do. It is something they asked us to do,” he said. “Right now, it is a misdemeanor, or it is nothing. They wanted a little more flexibility, and that is what we gave them.”

LAMONT DECIDED TO OFFER the option of imposing a lesser penalty because local officials were reluctant to make misdemeanor arrests because a conviction carries the possibility of a $1,000 fine or a one-year jail sentence.

The governor elaborated on the enforcement move during a news conference Sept. 16 outside Middletown City Hall a day after he issued his executive order.

Lamont said he did not believe giving municipalities the discretion to levy or not levy fines would lead to uneven or unfair enforcement of the applicable public health directives.

“I think it is good to have people have local control,” he said.

The new order authorizes chief elected official of a municipality, local and state police, and the state commissioner of public health and local health directors to issue infraction citations for violations of the mask mandate and attendance limits.

People generally must wear a mask or cloth face covering encompassing their nose and mouth where required, or when they are unable to maintain 6 feet apart while venturing out in public. There is an exemption for health reasons, but medical documentation is required.

Lamont imposed a 25-person limit for private indoor gatherings and a 100-person limit for private outdoor gatherings. There is a 500-person maximum for organized outdoor gatherings, such as fireworks displays or concerts in local parks. Also, the limit for fairs, festivals and carnivals is up to 25% of the last year’s attendance

THERE HAVE BEEN NEARLY 700 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Middletown, according to the latest state statistics Wednesday.

The Department of Public Health reported an additional 135 cases out of 11,257 test results that were received since Tuesday. There now have been 55,166 cases reported.

Public health official reported two more coronavirus-associated deaths, bringing the death toll to 4,487.

The DPH said there was net decline of one hospitalization between new admissions and discharges to 70 patients statewide.

THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT reported Wednesday there have been 428 confirmed coronavirus cases in Naugatuck and 59 in Beacon Falls. There have been 37 confirmed deaths associated with coronavirus and four probable deaths in Naugatuck, according to the health district, and none in Beacon Falls. The numbers did not change from the Tuesday’s update.

The Chesprocott Health District’s weekly update reported Sept. 11 showed there have been 87 cases in Prospect and no coronavirus-related deaths in town.