WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — About 200 drivers with license plates from outside Rhode Island found bright orange stickers on their cars in Woonsocket this week, notifying them of the order to quarantine when traveling to Rhode Island from other states.
Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Oates confirmed the stickers were put on windshields by city police officers over the weekend.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has ordered all travelers from other states to self-quarantine for 14 days, unless there are coming to Rhode Island for work. She has also said that cross-border travel for necessities like a trip to the grocery store would not be enough to mandate a quarantine.
The notice in Woonsocket quotes the governor’s order, including the exemption for health care workers and public safety, and says a violation of the order would be “punishable by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days, or both.”
Woonsocket borders the town of Blackstone, Massachusetts, and people commonly cross the border to work or run errands.
Oates said the flyers were part of an “informational blitz,” in an effort to avoid officers being exposed to too many people. Flyers were seen on cars with Massachusetts and New York plates, among others.
He said police kept a log of the license plates of the cars that received the notices, but said the log would not be used to track any of the drivers.
“We constantly have out-of-state cars in Woonsocket,” Oates said. “If you did drive in from New York two days ago, you’ve been put on notice.”
Since officers did not speak to the drivers, it’s unlikely that everyone who received the notice is actually required to quarantine because of the various exemptions. Asked if that was a confusing message, Oates said they included the URL to the Department of Health’s COVID-19 page so people can see for themselves if they are required to quarantine.
The Rhode Island State Police has been enforcing the quarantine order on travelers crossing the southern border, asking cars with out-of-state plates to stop at checkpoints on the interstate and secondary roads to receive quarantine instructions. If drivers tell troopers they are in Rhode Island for work or just passing through, they are sent on their way without the instructions.
But Woonsocket’s sticker-blitz is one of the only known enforcement measures in a northern border community so far.
Raimondo has acknowledged it would be difficult to enforce her order on Rhode Island’s northern border, since so many people commute between Massachusetts and Rhode Island for both work and essential errands such as trips to the grocery store and pharmacy.
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