Connecticut issues first $1,000 fines to travel violators
The Connecticut Department of Public Health issued its first $1,000 fines on Monday to two individuals who Gov. Ned Lamont said failed to comply with the travel advisory for residents who return home from states with high COVID-19 infection rates.
The Democrat said the two unnamed people had flown back to Connecticut from Louisiana and Florida and neither filled out a health form that's required from anyone entering from any state with a 10% or higher positive rate over a seven-day rolling average or a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents.
Besides not filling out a form, one of the people also refused to quarantine for the required 14 days and was fined an additional $1,000. Lamont said a coworker had notified state officials that the person was not complying with Lamont's executive order. Officials received a tip about the other person as well.
“Look, I hate to do it, but we’re going to be serious and show people we’re serious about this,” Lamont told reporters during his coronavirus briefing. “Overwhelmingly, people are doing the right thing. For those few of you who aren’t, please be on notice.”
Since Aug. 4, Puerto Rico and 34 states have been on the list, which applies to people entering New York and New Jersey as well.
Josh Geballe, Lamont's chief operating officer, said the incidents happened a couple weeks ago. One person is from Windham County and the other is from Hartford County. Meanwhile, he said there are additional investigations currently underway concerning other possible violators.
“This is for real. We need people to follow these rules. We need people to comply. This is one of the riskiest areas for the state of Connecticut right now as people travel into this state, bringing the virus with them,” he said.
“We need you to fill out the form. You need to quarantine. And we expect you to do that," Geballe said. “If not, there will be consequences.”
Geballe said the information on the forms is key in case someone tests positive and officials need to trace who that person may have come in contact with. He said more than 20,000 of the health forms have been submitted so far, with about 1,000 filed daily. Geballe said they provide “a significant amount of data that we can call on if we need it.”
Lamont also said there will be stepped-up enforcement concerning large private parties and suggested people who claim they can't wear face masks because of medical reasons to carry a doctor's note with them, noting some people have been abusing the exemption from the state's mask requirements.
Lamont praised the city of Bridgeport for recently closing down bars that were essentially masquerading as restaurants to get around the state's ban on stand-alone bars reopening during the continuing pandemic. He said hundreds of people were at those locations. Last week, Bridgeport had the most COVID-19 cases in the state.
“That's just how you get a flare-up again,” Lamont said.
In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:
LOW INFECTION RATE
Lamont said Connecticut continues to have a low rate of infection. Figures released Monday show it's about .6%, which the governor called “amazing.” Since Friday, there have been 247 new confirmed cases out of more than 38,000 more tests.
Three more people died of COVID-associated causes, for a total of 4,444 individuals. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations dropped by one patient, to 64.
Lamont signed an executive order on Monday that gives election officials some extra time to count absentee ballots for Tuesday's primary, so long as they're postmarked with Tuesday's date of Aug. 11. The ballots must arrive by Aug. 13 in order to be counted in the final vote tally.
Lamont said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill requested the order because Tropical Storm Isaias and other issues delayed the delivery of applications and ballots. Also, power outages affected election workers' abilities to process ballots.
“Didn’t want to have anybody disenfranchized due to difficulties related to these electric outages,” Lamont said.
Some Republican legislators criticized the move, accusing Merrill, a Democrat, of mishandling the new, temporary system that's allowing people to use COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee in both the primary and general election.
“She’s trying to blame everyone, including the weather, for her errors. This is not the fault of a storm, it’s not the fault of the postal service, and it’s not the fault of town clerks," said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “Secretary Merrill’s third-party mail house missed multiple deadlines and delayed sending ballots.”
A spokesman for Merrill said the secretary was concerned that people who expected their ballot to count wouldn't have it arrive in time because of storm-related delays.
“I don't know why Republicans don't want those votes to count,” said Gabe Rosenberg.
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