A Milford homeowner was fined $1,500 by the town for hosting hundreds of people who did not wear masks or practice social distancing last Saturday, an event described by the homeowner as a fund-raiser for a cancer patient, but decried by the town’s public health director as a possible COVID-19 spreader event.
“I never expected so many people to come to help her,” said Luis Loja Caguana, who organized the fund-raiser at the home he owns at 21 Franklin St. in the Worcester County town last Saturday. “I can pay the fine, but I was helping people, not doing something illegal. ... I never collected anything.”
Caguana said he agreed to host the fund-raiser for the patient, whom he said is a woman without insurance hospitalized for cancer treatment, and used his personal Facebook account to spread the word to the area’s Ecuadoran community that both he and the woman are part of.
He said he personally handed masks to those who showed up, but acknowledged that some put them in their pockets instead of wearing them. He also said that people did not keep 6 feet apart as required by public health rules as they barbecued or watched volleyball played on one of two courts at the house.
Milford police arrived and ordered the event to end, which Caguana said happened promptly. “The cops said more than 200 [people] or something like that,” Caguana said. “It was a lot of people. But I can’t tell you how much was it.”
Caguana said he wore a mask the entire time and that he has not hear of anyone who attended testing positive for COVID-19 since last Saturday. He also said that he did not know anyone with the virus prior to the event.
“I feel bad,” he said. “When the cops showed up I explained that nothing was for me.”
Caguana was fined for three violations of the public health safety guidelines set up by the Baker administration, according to Jacquelyn Murphy, the town’s public health director. He was fined $500 for violating a mandatory mask rule, $500 for having more than 50 people in one place, and $500 for not complying with the 6-foot social distancing rule, she said.
“This spring, Milford had one of the highest incidence of COVID. We’ve been working really hard to get our numbers down,’' Murphy said in a telephone interview Thursday. “But when you host a 200-person party in the context of a pandemic, you are working against the broader goals in the ccommunity.”
Murphy said that in the spring, the town reported 200 COVID cases in one week, but managed to drop the number to just 15 in the latest reporting period. She fears that now, there is the potential for the infection rate to increase from last Saturday’s event.
“Large gatherings of this kind create opportunities for COVID to spread very quickly,” she said. “A lot of people in town are excited about the fact that people are getting punished. I would much rather not give out fines. I would much rather people would follow the rules because the rules are put in place to protect everyone.”