Easthampton health officials order playgrounds, fields closed, add fines

  • Easthampton Municipal Building GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2020 12:50:59 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The city’s Board of Health voted Tuesday to close down areas including basketball courts and playgrounds, and to fine repeat violators of its order, as part of efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s unfortunate we got to this point,” said Mayor Nicole LaChapelle.

The order applies to public and semi-public playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts, softball/baseball fields and similar courts and fields, outdoor exercise equipment, gazebos, and any area where the public congregates to play a game, sport, or other associated gatherings. Semi-public is defined as associated with apartment houses, condominiums, youth clubs, community centers or similar establishments.

Signs saying that playgrounds in the city are closed were already up before the order, LaChapelle said.

“It’s stunning to me that that wasn’t enough,” she said.

The board also approved a second order Tuesday that enumerates the regulations that essential businesses must abide by in the city.

Both orders were drafted by Health Agent Bri Eichstaedt and approved by the full board.

Board of Health Chairwoman Maggie Hebert said the playground order was prompted by reports of people using basketball courts and playgrounds and not practicing social distancing.

“Our only means of prevention is social distancing,” she said.

The order excludes the bike trail and open areas of parks, she said, because it’s easier to practice social distancing in those locations.

Much of the order regarding essential businesses reiterates language that is already in place under a state order from Gov. Charlie Baker. However, it also includes new language specific to Easthampton. For instance, it bans people from picking up takeout food inside a restaurant, restricting pickups to the curbside or drive-thrus. It also bans all self-serve stations, including those for soda and coffee.

Eichstaedt said self-serve stations can’t be properly disinfected with the traffic that they see.

Some establishments have been doing a great job with COVID-19 prevention measures, Hebert said, while others have not.

“I don’t think that some establishments are taking it seriously,” Hebert said.

Both orders have provisions to fine violators, with the penalty for the first offense being a verbal warning, the penalty for a second offense being a $150 civil fine and the penalty for third and subsequent offenses being a $300 civil fine.

Eichstaedt said no one has been fined for coronavirus-related violations in the city yet.

“Usually we never get to that point,” she said.

Hebert said that it is important that people pay attention to what is being asked of them for the sake of public health.

“Essential means essential,” she said. “People really need to stay home.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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