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Police look to educate before enforcing distancing rules

Police look to educate before enforcing distancing rules



HEBRON, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut state police say they are prepared to disperse any crowds that gather in parks, malls or outdoor restaurants this holiday weekend, but are not looking to make arrests or issue citations for violations of the state’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Trooper Josue Dorelus, a state police spokesman, said people found without face masks or failing to socially distance will be educated before any enforcement action is taken.

“I think if we do our part to provide them with the information needed to keep them safe, it will go a long way,” he said. “We’ve been finding a lot of cooperation from members of the public and we don’t anticipate that being a huge issue or concern.”

Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday made it easier for law enforcement to legally enforce social distancing and other orders by expanding the definition of what is legally considered a public nuisance.

His executive order allows state and local police to enforce violations of orders “issued pursuant to a civil preparedness or public health emergency and there is a public health need to add additional enforcement capabilities.”

Monday’s order extended Connecticut’s state of emergency through June 20.

It also gives local health directors more power to close restaurants, clubs and hair salons that are not in compliance with the new social distancing and health regulations.

The state is planning to close parks and trails for the day once their parking lots fill to capacity, which has been reduced at some places to 25% of what it was before the pandemic.

Katie Dykes, the commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, urged people who are turned away from parks not to give the rangers a hard time or try to park outside and walk in.

“We do have a terrific environmental conservation officer force,” she said. “They’ve been out there doing patrols, our park staff as well.”

Dorelus said the state police have not been keeping track of citations, but have found that the vast majority of residents comply when asked to put on a mask or maintain proper social distancing.

“It’s understandable that people are frustrated,” he said. “A lot of people are cooped up at home and want to get outside and enjoy time with friends and family.”

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, or death.

In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:

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PRISON PLAN

Advocates for Connecticut prison inmates say a federal judge has asked them to work with the state Department of Correction on a compromise plan to keep inmates safe from the coronavirus.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Janet Bond Arterton postponed a hearing that had been scheduled for Friday on a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Connecticut, which is asking the court to order emergency actions that could include releasing more inmates to protect them from the pandemic.

Dan Barrett, the ACLU of Connecticut’s legal director, said the judge will arbitrate negotiations on a compromise.

“We have a responsibility to our clients — all incarcerated people in the state — to fight with everything we have for releases and other protections from COVID-19 for them,” Barrett said. “If negotiations prove the quickest way to move people out of harm’s way from COVID-19 in this life-or-death crisis, we will pursue them.”

Barrett said oral arguments have been rescheduled for June 1, should a compromise not be reached.

The state has begun testing all inmates in the system for the coronavirus. Six inmates have died of issues related to COVID-19.

As of Thursday, the state had reported 689 infections among prisoners and 374 among Correction Department staff. The department says 492 inmates have recovered from the virus and returned to their original housing units.

A similar lawsuit was struck down last month in state court.


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