While no fines have been issued or licenses suspended, the regional health department for Southington and Plainville and the Southington Police Department have logged more than 30 pandemic-related complaints against businesses and individuals since the spring. This has led to uncertainty over how to handle complaints about pandemic restrictions not being followed, so the SPD hired a retired police lieutenant, Michael Baribault, to deal with this rather delicate issue.
So far, the main tactic has been talk — to remind business owners of the rules about wearing masks and keeping social distance — rather than writing tickets.
“We're trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” said Shane Lockwood, director of the Plainville-Southington Regional Health Department. “Our focus the entire time has been education rather than enforcement.”
No one wants to be forced to wear a mask, but we should all remember that we’re also required to wear seatbelts in a car. In both cases it’s a matter of safety and health.
And this is a national, not a local, problem. Among the major cities that have been enforcing masks are Miami, Denver, New York and Nashville. And some California counties and cities have been issuing tickets. For the benefit of society, governments can sometimes even go so far as to require isolation or quarantine. But mask-wearing mandates, like seatbelt laws, are left to the states or municipalities.
Southington Police Chief Jack Daly’s decision to assign an officer to help the health department “freed up hours a day for me to respond more efficiently,” Lockwood said.
In addition to handling calls, Baribault helped document COVID cases in the district and distribute masks and supplies. He left the role in July.
Fortunately, people have become accustomed to the restrictions, Lockwood said, and have begun to avoid those without a mask rather than calling police on them.
But now, as cooler weather arrives and many kids are back in school, we seem to be entering a surge in cases, both here and in most other states, as has long been predicted. So the watchword remains: Wear a mask.