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Lamont says order on $10,000 fines sends 'bad actors' a message

Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday defended his executive order increasing the fine on businesses that violate the state’s COVID-19 rules regarding hours of operation and capacity limits from $500 to $10,000.

The edict takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

During a virtual press briefing, Lamont said that while the vast majority of restaurants and retail establishments observe the rules, the state must be able to hold “outliers” and “bad actors” accountable. He said he took the action now to help prevent the COVID-19 spread from worsening and necessitating stricter measures. Some states, he said, have shut down restaurants.

Guidelines Lamont adopted earlier this month require Connecticut restaurants to stop serving by 9:30 p.m., close by 10 and limit seating capacity to 50%.

Other COVID-19 fines, which can be issued by local health directors or municipal officials, with the help of law enforcement, include $500 for organizing an event that exceeds capacity limits, $250 for attending an event that exceeds capacity limits and $100 for failure to wear a mask in public.

State Senate Republican Leader-elect Kevin Kelly of Stratford issued a statement critical of Lamont’s order.

“While I understand the Governor’s goal to deter bad actors who ignore the rules and contribute to the community spread of the virus, it's wrong to provoke fear and implement enormous fines without defining a clear appeal process and making a concerted effort to increase communication and assistance to those trying to create jobs and figure out how to navigate the pandemic,” he said.

Both Lamont and David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, were receptive to a suggestion that any COVID-19 fines the state collects be used to fund grants to businesses harmed by the pandemic.

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” the governor said.

Lamont reported the state had counted 1,872 new COVID-19 cases among 31,232 tests for the disease, a one-day positivity rate of 5.99%. Hospitalizations had increased by 77 to 968, and 45 additional deaths had pushed the cumulative toll since the pandemic began to 4,926.

Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said the one-day death toll, considerably higher than in recent days, reflected the way data had been released rather than any specific circumstance.

The state Department of Public Health issued its weekly COVID-19 alert map, which shows that 150 of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns are now in the “red alert” zone, meaning their average daily case rate over the last two weeks exceeds 15 per 100,000 population.

All but two of the 21 towns in New London County are in the red zone. North Stonington and Preston, which were in the red zone last week, have been downgraded to orange alert, meaning their averge daily case rate ranges from 10 to 14 per 100,000 population.

Forty-eight COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in New London County, up from 45 the previous day.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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