Pandemic fines take effect today

MONITORING: The Department of Public Health and Social Services will be monitoring residents and businesses to ensure compliance with health directives. Anyone in violation of the directive could be cited and fined. In this photo, DPHSS representatives in full protective gear conduct COVID-19 testing at the Gill-Baza and Zero Down subdivisions in Yigo on Oct. 19. Post file photo

Beginning today, residents can be fined for having congregations of more than five people not from a single household, and businesses for failing to submit mitigation plans – among other pandemic directives – according to the Joint Information Center.

The Department of Public Health and Social Services held two public hearings to gather comments on its draft regulations. One of the changes following the public hearings is the removal of a misdemeanor charge on the third offense, which came with a possible prison term for up to a year, according to DPHSS spokeswoman Janela Carrera. 

Carrera said the regulations released to the public on Wednesday pertained primarily to the fines – as the requirements and guidelines themselves are the same that officials have been encouraging residents to follow for the last several months.

"This is the enforcement rule that just dropped," Carrera stated. "This sets the penalties and fines for any violations regarding the executive order and the directives that have been issued by Public Health. The social gathering limitation is still no more than five people, so that hasn't changed. As far as Thanksgiving, if you're going to have people over, it's still five, unless it's family of the same household."

She said the fines coming out on Thanksgiving Day is a coincidence.

"We've been trying to get this out since last week. What we wanted to do was ensure we had a process in place for due process, so we were working with Traffic Court at the Judiciary," Carrera stated. "It's just coincidence that it happened to be released around this time."

Anyone who wants to challenge or pay the citations can go through the Traffic Division of the Superior Court of Guam.

Public Health guidelines

Public Health has stated that, when hosting a Thanksgiving gathering, residents should:

  • Have a small outdoor meal with no more than five people who do not live in your household.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
  • Open windows to bring in fresh air, if celebrating indoors.
  • Limit the number of people in food-preparation areas.
  • Assign one person to serve food, if sharing food.
  • Have an adequate number of single-use utensils for each person to use for each dish, if food is self-serve. A receptacle should also be accessible and available to hold all used utensils.
  • Use single-use articles, such as disposable containers, paper plates and plastic utensils.

Fines for individuals, businesses

Public Health expects businesses to enforce mask-wearing, 6-foot social distancing and temperature checks, and implement frequent sanitation. Certain businesses are subject to specific restrictions, such as outdoor dining only for restaurants, and a limit on the number of people allowed in a business establishment depending on the space available.

Individuals who violate the directives could be fined the following: $100 for the first offense; $250 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense.

The fines will be applied to individuals who violate rules regarding: congregations or social gatherings; social distancing and the wearing of masks when congregating with persons who are not from the same household; or any restrictions on the use of public parks or beaches, and on organized or contact sports.

Businesses and nonprofit organizations found in violation of directives, which include submitting a mitigation plan, limiting authorized operations and occupancy, can be fined: $1,000 for the first offense; $2,500 for the second offense; and $10,000 for the third offense

Enforcement 'driven by complaints'

The due process, Carrera explained, allows residents and businesses to either challenge the citation or pay the fine in Traffic Court.

"It's similar to the way you would pay, say, a speeding ticket," she said.

Carrera said anyone wanting to report a violation can continue to call the 311 Call Center.

"This is driven by complaints – similar to how we've been operating," she said. "We're not going out there and actively looking for violators. ... It's basically going to be complaints."

TRIM FOR PRINT

She added, "If neighbors want to be responsible and ensure that their neighbors are being compliant, or for example, you're at a dining establishment and notice that patrons or management isn't adhering to the guidance, it could be reported that way."

She said because neither GPD or DPHSS can be everywhere, they'll rely on complaints that are called in because "otherwise we wouldn't know, GPD wouldn't know unless it's being brought to our attention."

Educating the community

Carrera clarified that DPHSS' main goal is to educate the community to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.

"We want to educate the community and make sure they're well-informed. So that's something we'll be working on."

She said the fines are just a part of DPHSS' tools to stop the spread of the virus.

"Our primary goal really is to educate the community on what types of directives are out there. We want the community to be given the opportunity to follow what the guidelines are. This is just the tool, a resource," she said, referring to the fines. "And also the discretion really lies on the authority. I don't want the community to feel like this is a time to go out there and look for violators and punishing them. That's not the theme here, the theme is to educate."

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