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Lamont announces new fines for not wearing a mask, large gatherings

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that Connecticut is implementing new fines for violations of some COVID-19 orders but easing restrictions on travel from states on Connecticut's Travel Advisory.

The new fines are $100 for violating a mask order, $500 for organizing an event that exceeds size limits, and $250 for attending an event that exceeds size limits. Private gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 100 outdoors, while outdoor organized gatherings — such as concerts in parks — are capped at 500 people, with social distancing.

Law enforcement, designees of the local mayor or first selectman, or local public health officials, can issue fines. Lamont is issuing an executive order about the fines, and Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said the state is finalizing an effective date but it'll be this week.

The governor explained that the fines "give local health officials a little more leverage" when people break the rules, while Geballe said the fines are in response to multiple requests from police, municipalities and health officials. 

He said the "first tool that those municipal partners have is a misdemeanor," which many found "excessively harsh," and so this executive order gives law enforcement and officials "another set of tools in the toolkit to help ensure people were following requirements at the local level."

As for the travel advisory, Lamont explained that he's simplifying the guidance by allowing people to get a negative test result three days before traveling rather than quarantining for 14 days, though the latter is still preferred.

"It just gives you a little more flexibility," Lamont said. He later added, "Even those states that are on the quarantine list are barely on the quarantine list, so it looked to me this was a pretty good time to make it easier for people."

Geballe noted that the state started putting in exceptions to the travel advisory, such as for people attending a funeral or sending a child to college, but "exceptions built up to the point where it was very hard for people to understand."

From Friday until Monday, the state saw an increase of 569 positive COVID-19 cases, 13 hospitalizations and five deaths. That means 64 people are hospitalized with the coronavirus, and Lamont noted the average over the summer has been 50 to 70.

The governor said about 100,000 tests are being conducted per week in the state, "which is really where we want to be."

Lamont said the next two or three months are very important, and since it's football season, he made the analogy that he hopes we're in the fourth quarter of COVID-19, but he doesn't know.

Speaking literally about football, the governor would prefer to see the high school football season postponed until February. He hopes there will be a 5-minute lab test and some new therapies by then, and thinks it's "reasonable to assume we'll be in a much better position" to stem the flow of COVID-19 in February than in October.

Lamont pointed out that Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York have all delayed the football season to 2021.

But the governor is leaving that up to local jurisdictions.

About 1,000 high school football players rallied outside the Capitol last Wednesday to push for a fall season. On Friday, there was a meeting between the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the state Department of Public Health, and acting DPH Commissioner Deidre Gifford stuck to her guidance against a fall season.

e.moser@theday.com

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