PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – If you’ve been ordered into self-quarantine in Rhode Island because of recent travel or contact with someone with COVID-19, you might want to think twice before going out in public.
New fines set by the R.I. Department of Health for violating a quarantine order range from up to $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third. And each instance or day a person violates quarantine counts as a separate offense, according to a copy of the new rules, which means you could rack up $850 in fines for going out three days in a row (provided you get caught).
Gov. Gina Raimondo announced last week that quarantine violations would start being punishable by fines, but didn’t go into detail about how it would work, leaving it to the Department of Health to promulgate new rules.
Those regulations, posted online as an “emergency rule” that went into effect on April 10 without a public comment period, also say a person accused of violating quarantine will have a right to request a hearing.
Violators can also waive the hearing and just pay the fine.
“We don’t want to punish anyone, we don’t want to levy a fine on anyone,” Raimondo said last week. “But if you are found to be deliberately, knowingly, purposely, repeatedly violating your quarantine and isolation, well then you will be punished.”
The new regulations say the Health Department and any police department are allowed to issue a citation for violating quarantine.
They also include a provision for the Health Department to issue something called an “immediate compliance order,” which would be served to an alleged violator without a hearing.
There are now multiple ways a person could be ordered into quarantine or isolation by the Health Department and subject to these fines.
On the same day Raimondo told the department to start enforcing quarantines, she signed an executive order mandating what had already been happening in practice: that people who have COVID-19 must isolate themselves, and their close contacts must self-quarantine.
Quarantining involves not leaving the home – even for groceries or a walk in the park – for 14 days while monitoring for symptoms. People can be ordered to quarantine by the Health Department if they appear on someone’s close contact list who has tested positive.
About 6,000 people were in quarantine as of Wednesday. Health care and public safety workers are exempt from these orders, as are some other critical infrastructure workers.
Isolation, which is for people who have actually tested positive, involves separating yourself from healthy people even in your own household. Isolation lasts at least seven days, or until symptoms are gone and you’ve been fever-free for three days without medication, according to the health department.
Other reasons Rhode Islanders may be ordered into quarantine include non-work-related travel from other states or countries to Rhode Island.
Raimondo has been tightening her interpretation of out-of-state travel, though she slightly relaxed one previous assertion on Wednesday, saying people who live near the border and cross over to shop for groceries in Seekonk, for example, don’t need to quarantine for 14 days upon return.
But she emphasized that those people – and everyone else – are still bound by her stay-at-home order, which requires people stay home except for work, essential errands and outdoor exercise (while staying six feet away from other people, of course).
The Rhode Island National Guard has so far only been stopping cars with out-of-state license plates in the southern part of Rhode Island. Drivers who are planning to stay in Rhode Island are asked to give their contact information and address of where they plan to quarantine. (Drivers who are just passing through, or entering the state for work, are free to go.)
A Health Department spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether there would be spot checks of quarantines, or if enforcement would only take place in response to a report of a violation.
It was not immediately clear whether any citations had been issued yet under the new rules.