Too Close for Comfort?

Social distancing hotline receives 25,000 complaints

A state hotline had received, as of June 14, more than 25,000 complaints about businesses that were not enforcing social distancing among customers, mostly in Manhattan and the Hamptons.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to roll back re-openings if local officials didn’t enforce the laws. “People are violating everything,” he said on Monday (June 15), adding that state troopers could not be relied on to enforce the rules everywhere. 

On Thursday (June 18), Cuomo said he would issue an executive order that would allow the state to suspend the liquor licenses of bars and restaurants that violate reopening guidelines — including in the area immediately outside — and for the closure of other businesses. 

“To the local governments I say, ‘Do your job,’ ” Cuomo said on Monday. “We have to stay smart. And if the local governments don’t enforce compliance, they’re not doing anyone a favor, because … you will see the numbers start to go up. And if the numbers start to go up, you’re going to have to see that area take a step back.”

The state has been forwarding an average of 17 complaints a week to Dutchess County, said Colleen Pillus, the county’s spokeswoman. Ron Hicks, the assistant county executive, contacts businesses that have been the subject of complaints. 

“In general, most have been very cooperative,” she said. “Often it just requires clarification on the guidance.”

In Putnam County, Shawn Rogan, the director of environmental services, told legislators at a Tuesday meeting that his office, along with code enforcement officers and local police, has responded to “many complaints, not only in restaurants but in many different businesses” about a lack of social distancing. 

He said the county responds by talking to the business owners, urging them to follow state rules, and follows up with additional inspections. 

“We’re hoping we don’t ever have to go to the level of requiring an enforcement action,” Rogan said. “We have that tool, but we get very good results with our education-based approach.”

The state has a phone number (833-789-0470) and forms at coronavirus.health.ny.gov to report “non-essential gatherings” or businesses that are violating social-distancing regulations. The state earlier this year increased the maximum fine for violations from $500 to $1,000.

Workers also can file complaints if they are forced to work at a business that is not allowed to operate, forced to report for a job that could be performed from home, or forced to work when sick, among other conditions.


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