With an executive order that allows a maximum fine of $10,000 on businesses that violate COVID-19 capacity restrictions, Gov. Ned Lamont fired a warning shot Tuesday night timed to the start of the holiday shopping season.
The new penalty takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thanksgiving and represents a twenty-fold increase in the present maximum fine of $500, one that has been imposed sparingly by local public health officials.
Lamont said stiffer fines are preferable to commercial closures as the United States struggles to combat a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“Increasing compliance with the protocols we’ve already enacted is an important responsibility in keeping our communities safe,” Lamont said in an emailed statement. “We want to do everything we can to mitigate the further spread of this virus while avoiding the implementation of more restrictions or lockdowns on our already hard-hit economy and small businesses.”
Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said the new fine structure was set after consultation with municipalities and trade associations representing merchants and restaurants. He said the announcement was made Tuesday night to provide adequate public notice.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Connecticut increased by 16 to 891 on Tuesday, and about 4% of the 13,208 tests reported were positive. There were 10 more deaths, bringing the toll since March to 4,881. Nationally, there have been about 1,000 COVID-19 deaths a day during the surge.
“Particularly as we approach Black Friday and the start of the holiday shopping season, we want to stress the importance of following public health protocols to protect both customers and workers,” Lamont said. “Working together, we can get the spread of COVID-19 under control while mitigating the impact that it is having on our economy.”
Lamont signed the executive order at his home in Greenwich, where he has been quarantined since Reiss tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 13. A trooper on his security detail also has tested positive.
Fines for violations can be issued by local health directors or municipal designees, with the support of law enforcement. They apply to commercial venues, while violations of the limits on private and religious gatherings are punishable by lesser amounts.
Other fines for COVID-19 rules include $500 for organizing an event over capacity limits, $250 for attending events over capacity limits, $100 for failure to wear a face mask or covering when in public, and up to $500 for violations of the state’s travel rules.
Connecticut tightened its restrictions on Nov. 6, setting a closing time of 10 p.m. for restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues and limiting indoor capacity to 50%. Last service for in-person dining is 9:30 p.m., and table seating is limited to eight. Retailers also are limited to 50% of capacity, and patrons and staff must wear masks.