HAVERHILL — Haverhill police will begin handing out fines to people who gather in public in groups larger than 10, under a new emergency law adopted Tuesday to address social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Meeting by video conference from home, Haverhill city councilors voted to approve the proposal from Mayor James Fiorentini, who said police had asked him to give them the authority to enforce social distancing.
Under the ordinance, people in groups larger than 10 in any of Haverhill's public spaces could be fined $50 for the first violation, $100 for the second and $300 for the third and any subsequent violation. Those staying six feet away from one another are not in violation. All emergency personnel are exempt.
"This is an ordinance we hope we never have to use, and one as a civil liberties attorney I thought that I would never in my lifetime submit," Fiorentini said in Tuesday's meeting. "But these are unprecedented times."
Fiorentini told Boston 25 News last week he was forced to call police to shut down the park at Plug Pond because of a large group of fishermen and as many as 100 cars.
Since then, Fiorentini said, the vast majority of residents are abiding by social distancing advisories. But some, particularly kids, are continuing to gather, not realizing what danger they are posing to each other and especially the most vulnerable population, he said.
“It doesn’t seem real for them,” Fiorentini told Boston 25 News by phone Tuesday, adding that he knows some of the elderly hospitalized patients. “They don’t understand the danger.”
Fiorentini initially proposed amending the ordinance to restrict social gatherings to five unrelated people. However, city councilors were concerned about that language.
"It's a start in the right direction," Fiorentini said. "Give this a try and then see how it works."
Haverhill has had 104 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, with a few currently hospitalized and no deaths.
The ordinance is effective immediately and will expire within 30 days or once Mayor Fiorentini lifts his state of emergency, whichever occurs last.
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