State: Fairhaven Health Chairman Broke COVID Rules
A large summer wedding held at a farmstead owned by a Fairhaven town official has caught the attention of state public health officials because the event violated a COVID-19 safety order issued by Gov. Charlie Baker.
An Aug. 29 wedding and indoor reception attended by around 150 people was held at 279 Mill Rd., the home of Peter DeTerra, chairman of the Fairhaven Board of Health. A top official with the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services wrote to DeTerra on Oct. 5 chastising him for hosting the event.
"It is the collective responsibility of all in the Commonwealth to conduct ourselves in a manner which protects the public health and prevents the spread of COVID-19," wrote EOHHS Assistant Commissioner Jana Ferguson to Fairhaven's top public health enforcer.
At the time of the wedding, state rules limited indoor gatherings to no more than 25 persons and outdoor gatherings to no more than 50. Ferguson reminded DeTerra of rules requiring six feet between non-household members, and of the requirement for face coverings during gatherings of 10 or more not from the same household. The state's COVID rules apply to both public or private property, Ferguson wrote to DeTerra.
The applicable rules were issued by Baker on Aug. 7 as part of the state's phased re-opening plan. Ferguson further reminded DeTerra that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, local boards of health, and state and municipal police are authorized to enforce the state's COVID-19 rules, and may issue fines of up to $500.
DeTerra was not issued a formal citation for hosting the wedding at his farm. However, the company that catered the event -- Pranzi Catering and Events of Providence, Rhode Island -- was issued a written warning by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards. Furthermore, a Berkley-based band that performed at the DeTerra wedding -- "The Freeze Pops" -- was issued a Cease and Desist Order from the department.
"DLS recognizes that (Pranzi) was not responsible for the guest list," the department told the caterers. "However, providing services for an occupancy greater than the Massachusetts COVID standards allow puts a shared responsibility on your business."
The Freeze Pops were informed that live indoor performances were not allowed at the time of the wedding. They were further told that indoor singing performances are still not allowed in any Massachusetts community. Outdoor singing groups have since been allowed in certain low-risk communities, but only if strict safety standards are adhered to.
Fairhaven Board of Health member Geoffrey Haworth serves as the board's de facto public spokesman. Reached by telephone today, Haworth said DeTerra's choice to host the large wedding put him and board member Michael Ristuccia in a tough position.
"We can't really rule on one of our own," Haworth said. "It presents a conflict of interest." Haworth said a state public health official called him to talk about the DeTerra wedding, and an agreement was made that the state would handle it.
"I thought about it long and hard," Haworth said. "Asking the state to handle it was the right thing to do, morally and ethically." Haworth said he also called the State Ethics Commission to discuss his options.
Asked by WBSM News if the Board of Health plans to discuss the matter at a public session, Haworth said that would only be possible if DeTerra decides to do so.
"The chairman puts the meeting agenda together," he said.
Haworth said the board generally issues warnings to offenders of state COVID rules, and strives to educate offenders. "The rules change all the time," he said.
Asked if DeTerra, as chairman of the Board of Health, has a special responsibility to become familiar with public health rules and regulations, Haworth said he believes that is so.
"I would agree with that," he said. "You're right, he's not just anybody in town."
The Fairhaven Neighborhood News first procured copies of the DeTerra letter by filing a public records request with the state. The local news source said it was not able to procure the documents from local officials. Furthermore, the Neighborhood News was not able to reach DeTerra for comment. Editor Beth David tried calling DeTerra, but he did not pick up, and his phone is not set up to take messages. DeTerra has publicly said that he "is not an email person."