Raimondo: ‘Time to turn up the heat’ on COVID-19 enforcement

PROVIDENCE – With Phase III of Rhode Island’s reopening plan starting Tuesday, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo says it is time for the state to step up its enforcement of safety regulations for businesses in order to prevent spread of COVID-19.

The governor admitted Monday during a press conference that the state has had a “very light touch” in enforcement of phased guidelines up to this point. Businesses needed more of a helping hand from the state to get restarted after being either forced to close due to the ongoing pandemic or operating at limited capacity for a couple months, Raimondo said.

However, Raimondo said she’s heard from multiple restaurant owners, retail operators and gym owners that have been abiding by the new regulations asking her to increase enforcement because they “don’t all want to be shut down for a few bad actors.”

Raimondo said additional enforcement measures could be announced later this week or next week. The governor added spot compliance checks on businesses will still be conducted, but additional personnel will be sent out to do those inspections. There may also be a transparency portal showing which businesses have been cited for noncompliance, similar to how the R.I. Department of Health publicly notes which restaurants received various health code violations.

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“People have had a couple of months to figure this out, now I think it’s time to turn up the heat a little bit on people who are not complying,” Raimondo said. “A consumer should be able to know, is this a restaurant or company that is following the rules or not. I decided to wait a little bit. But now, that is exactly where we’re going to go.”

State officials also for the first time on Monday said some businesses have been notified for noncompliance. R.I. Commerce Corp. Secretary Stefan Pryor said “most” businesses the state heard about for not complying with regulations have received “more than one warning.” But Pryor didn’t say an actual number of businesses that have been warned more than once by state officials.

Pryor also said a “handful” of businesses have received compliance orders, which puts businesses on notice to either comply with regulations or face further consequences – fines or closing down “in some form.”

“We don’t want to exercise that authority, but it can [happen],” Pryor said.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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