A New Haven official conducting a COVID code inspection last year. Currently, mask requirements in stores are qa local option. Thomas Breen / New Haven Independent

Local bars, restaurants, and other businesses that don’t comply with the New Haven’s indoor mask mandate could face $100 fines —and even mandatory shutdowns— as part of city government’s latest efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Mayor Justin Elicker and city Health Director Maritza Bond made that announcement last Wednesday morning during a Covid-update press conference on the first floor of City Hall.

Standing alongside city Building Official Jim Turcio and Deputy Fire Marshal Jen Forslund, the mayor and health director said that New Haven is ramping up enforcement of the citywide indoor mask mandate that went into effect on Aug. 9.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.

That local executive order requires people in all indoor public spaces and private businesses across New Haven to wear a face mask, except when they are eating or drinking.

Bond said that the city’s Covid inspection and enforcement task force— consisting of officials from the health, building, and fire departments—has already started combing the city, popping in on local businesses and making sure that employees at delis, restaurants, bars, and other venues are following the new rule.

She said that the city has already issued 28 verbal warnings and two written warnings to local businesses that have been in violation of the order.

Bond added that the city’s enforcement won’t stop with warnings. If local businesses are found to be in violation of the mask mandate even after receiving verbal and written warnings, the city will go so far as to temporarily shut those businesses down and issue $100 infractions.

Bond said that the inspectors will keep a special eye out for employees not wearing masks, as customers at bars and restaurants will likely have their masks on and off depending on whether or not they’re eating and drinking. If multiple employees or customers are found in consistent violation of the mask order, she said, a single business could be hit with more than one $100 fine.

“We are in high risk transmission,” Bond said about New Haven’s current Covid spike. “We will not tolerate individuals that disregard the lives of the people that we serve.”

The health director also said that the Covid safety inspection crews will be on the lookout for proper signage at businesses announcing the requirement to wear masks. And they’ll be making sure that businesses follow normal capacity limits for restaurants, bars, etc… There are no Covid-specific capacity or social distancing requirements currently in place.

To underscore the summer-long surge of new Covid cases across the city and the state with the rise of the more infectious Delta variant, Bond said that New Haven now has roughly 200 new Covid cases per week—up from 14 new cases per week at the beginning of July.

Elicker said that the city’s Covid positivity rate is currently 2.4 percent, and the state’s is 4.65 percent. Statewide, he said, there are currently 363 people hospitalized with Covid—up from 37 in the first week of July.

“It is clear that if you get vaccinated, you are much more protected from getting Covid-19 and from getting severe Covid-19,” he said.

He also emphasized that face masks are one of the most simple and effective public health tools to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, even among the vaccinated.

Also during the presser, Bond said that two New Haveners recently died from Covid-19, though she did not have any details on age, race, or gender of the recently deceased. Overall, she said, 211 New Haveners have died from Covid over the course of the 17-month pandemic.

City vax mandate takes effect Sept. 27

Wednesday’s press conference came five days after the city announced a new vaccination-or-testing mandate for all city employees, which goes into effect on Sept. 27.

Elicker said on Wednesday that city employees will receive a detailed Human Resources policy about this mandate later this week.

He said that city employees will be required to upload proof of their vaccination status or their decision to get weekly testing instead to the city’s Covid vaccination portal on Sept. 7 and Sept. 14.

For those who opt out of the vaccination requirement, he said, they will need to get tested weekly starting the week of Sept. 27. Testing will generally be allowed during work time.

If an employee does not get vaccinated and refuses to get tested weekly, he said, that employee’s manager will be notified and the employee will have 24 hours to correct the situation.

If they still refuse to get vaccinated or tested, that employee will be “deemed unable to work, and put on unpaid leave,” the mayor said.

In advance of Wednesday morning’s City Hall presser, four local union leaders put out a statement about the city’s new vaccination mandate for municipal employees. Those presidents include AFSCME Local 3144’s Harold Brooks, Local 287’s Tom DeLucia, and Local 1303-467’s Cynthia Harris-Jackson.

Here’s the local labor statement in full: “The hardworking city and board of education employees impacted by Mayor Elicker’s mandate are the same workers who have been on the front lines of this pandemic for the past 18 months. Our members have put their own health at risk for the sake of the New Haven community. Our unions will continue to advocate safe working conditions for our members and the public we serve. We will bargain the impacts of the Mayor’s vaccination mandate directive to make sure that the unsung heroes of this pandemic are treated in a safe, fair and consistent manner. We look forward to meeting with the Mayor and his representatives for further discussions.”