Business Closed, Fined As Overtaxed Health Dept. Deals With COVID-19 Surge

Photo: Masks are now advised for use by all citizens. (Credit: CDC/ Debora Cartagena)

A Belmont business was ordered closed and fined for violating the state’s non-essential business law as the town continues its efforts to steam the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wesley Chin, director of the town’s Health Department, told the Select Board during its meeting held via video conference on April 6, his department received word over the weekend that an unidentified establishment deemed non-essential was operating.

Gov. Charlie Baker issued COVID-19 order No. 21 on March 31 extending his original March 23 requiring all businesses and organizations in the state that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public until May 4, 2020.

“We have since sent a cease and desist order and [issued] a $300 fine to the business owner,” he said.

“It’s not what we want to do, but we also want people to know that they need to help us take [the shut down] seriously,” said Chin. “We don’t have the time to give people warnings, it’s just going to go right to a violation notice with a fine.”

When asked by Select Board Chair Tom Caputo if he has the staff level needed to meet the needs of the community, Chin said in the last week, “we’re starting to really feel the pinch … and we’re treading water” as he and his staff are “trying our best to keep up with things” including responding to a high level of emails “from concerned citizens with a lot of great ideas.”

On a hopeful note, Chin said his office just received a second $10,000 grant from the state’s COVID-19 emergency fund. The $20,000 will be used “to bring on additional nursing help … for the department to get through the duration of this difficult time.”

In his update on the COVID-19’s impact in Belmont, Chin reported 41 confirmed cases by the state’s Department of Public Health of the novel coronavirus as of Monday, April 6.

There has still been only one death – that of a resident of living at Belmont Manor, a rehabilitation and nursing facility – attributed to COVID-19.

Saying he hopes he doesn’t sound like a broken record, “[w]e do believe there are more cases out there that are positive” for the virus, warning that asymptomatic (the lack of any symptoms) spread of COVID-19 can occur.

“There are people walking around that seemed perfectly healthy that may not have any awareness but they’re spreading the virus to other people in the community,” said Chin, who reiterated the importance of social distancing, whether it is indoors at a supermarket or pharmacy or outside.

Chin also advocated the use of face coverings when leaving the house, again both when residents are inside and outdoors.

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