Lawmakers push fines for those who refuse to wear masks, quarantine
ER doctor and Boston state Rep. Jon Santiago said a second surge of coronavirus cases is coming, laying out a five-point strategy to stop it — including fines of up to $1,000 for people who refuse to quarantine and $100 for not wearing a mask.
“We’re very much at risk of having a second surge here in Massachusetts and I think many medical experts — including myself — would agree that it’s not a matter of if, but when we will get that second surge. Now the question is how big it will that be,” Santiago told the Herald.
A bill filed Tuesday and cosigned by state Rep. Mindy Domb and state Sen. Harriette Chandler, would mandate face coverings, require a two-week quarantine for travelers entering Massachusetts from COVID-19 hot spots, prioritize testing for high-risk people, enforce coronavirus protocols in businesses and better fund local boards of health.
Santiago said he hopes lawmakers act with a “sense of urgency,” as there are less than three weeks until the legislative session ends on July 31.
Santiago’s mask and quarantine mandates are similar to those already in place through executive order by Gov. Charlie Baker. But unlike Baker’s, they include fines.
“The aim of this bill is not to persecute people. It’s not about having the police chase people down, it’s about amplifying this issue,” Santiago said.
Santiago’s bill comes as the state presses forward with reopening its economy even as viral rates spike elsewhere in the country, prompting governors in California, Texas and Florida to reverse course.
Massachusetts has, so far, kept a handle on its infection rates, but Santiago said he’s seen fewer people wearing masks and less social distancing as things have continued to reopen. There are now signs of increased spread as people start to move around more and patronize local businesses, he said.
The reproduction number — the number of people to which an infected person passes on the virus — has climbed back above 1, which is “concerning,” Santiago said.
“It’s becoming clear that the pandemic will be with us for awhile. We need to focus on supporting and sustaining behavior changes that prevent COVID-19 transmission,” Domb said in a statement.
Santiago’s bill isn’t just about enforcement, it would increase resources to strapped local boards of health that are the only line of defense for most communities trying to get businesses and people to comply with coronavirus guidelines.
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has received more than 900 complaints about unsafe workplace conditions related to the coronavirus since the state began reopening its economy in mid-May.
Santiago said “that’s a big number” that illustrates the urgency of turning a bill like his into law.
In most instances, the AG’s office doesn’t have direct authority to take enforcement action, a spokeswoman said.