BOSTON — Health officials logged hundreds of complaints about violations of the state’s reopening rules last year, ranging from allegations of employees and customers not wearing face coverings to a lack of social distancing.

A list provided by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development shows more than 1,400 cases have been investigated since late May, when the state began allowing some businesses to reopen under restrictions.

Of those cases, only 25 led to citations, while another 159 resulted in warnings, according to a list provided by the state. Another 56 business received cease and desist orders from state or local health boards.

Others are still under investigation.

Businesses hit with complaints run the gamut from gyms, ice cream parlors and nail salons, to restaurants, bars, supermarkets, retail stores and golf ranges. Many stemmed from reports by workers, the public or local elected officials.

Complaints were also lodged against local governments. A town administrator on Martha’s Vineyard, for example, needed to be “reminded” about wearing a face covering in town buildings, according to a complaint log provided by the state.

Sanctions for not complying with the state’s reopening rules, meant to limit the spread of COVID-19, range from a written warning to a $300 per violation fine to an order that can shut down a business.

The complaints include one reported to the state on Jan. 19 against Pfizer’s Andover research facility, alleging that employees weren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing, and that contact tracing wasn’t being used to inform other employees about potential infections.

The pharmaceutical giant developed one of several COVID-19 vaccines that are being distributed worldwide.

In a statement, the company said it investigated the complaint and “responded to all relevant officials including the Department of Labor’s Industrial Health and Safety Inspector who confirms our Andover site is in compliance.”

“Pfizer Andover treats any safety and health concern very seriously, and we have worked hard to provide a safe workplace aimed at minimizing employee risk during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said.

The cases disclosed by the state are only those reported to the Labor Department. The log doesn’t include actions taken by local boards of health on mask requirements, quarantining or travel restrictions.

Enforcement of the state’s reopening guidelines has fallen largely to those local officials, who’ve been given far-reaching powers under the state of emergency.

Gov. Charlie Baker has been slowly easing many of the state’s reopening restrictions, some of which have been in place for months, amid improving trends on COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

On Thursday, he lifted capacity restrictions on many businesses from 25% to 40% citing improving metrics.

The state is currently in Phase 3, Step 1 of its reopening plans, and many indoor performance venues and recreational businesses remain closed. Indoor gatherings are still limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings 25 people. A statewide mask requirement remains in effect.

“People’s work is paying off on this one,” Baker said at a Thursday briefing. “We just need to keep it up for a few more months.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

 

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