Amid complaints from residents that some New Haven businesses are not complying with public health directives, Mayor Justin Elicker and Health Director Maritza Bond announced on Monday that the city is expanding a resident reporting tool and rolling out a “Spread the facts, not the virus” public health campaign.

While most Elm City establishments have shuttered their doors following sweeping closure orders from Gov. Ned Lamont, essential businesses — including groceries and pharmacies — remain open. But in recent days, city officials have received numerous complaints that some of those businesses are not enforcing the social distancing measures required by the state, leading residents to fear contracting the novel coronavirus while on trips to get food or medicine. In response, New Haven has expanded SeeClickFix, an existing reporting tool founded in the Elm City, to include five new COVID-19-related categories.

“New Haven is working diligently to synthesize data, communicate critical guidance, and implement preventative measures to protect the community,” Bond said. “We need residents to partner with us in this fight by staying informed, following our guidelines, and reporting problems and concerns. Along with our website, this tool provides the means to do that.”

New Haven residents were already using SeeClickFix to make reports and requests about quality-of-life issues prior to the pandemic, according to a Monday press release. The tool, available in mobile app and website form, allows users to document their reports with pictures, videos and specific event descriptions.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, New Haven has found a new use for SeeClickFix and on Monday added categories for residents to submit general coronavirus concerns, request support, ask questions about city policies and closures, report public gatherings that violate social distancing measures and report noncompliant businesses to the Health Department.

The latter two categories come on the heels of complaints about park use that prompted Elicker to close New Haven’s playgrounds on March 29 and put a chain across the entrance of East Rock park on Friday to address continued reports of group congregation. While nearby towns like Branford closed parks early on, New Haven was initially reluctant to shut off public access to open spaces but has increased regulations in the past week. Recent measures have been largely effective, Elicker said on Saturday, noting that there have been few complaints about playground use since closures went into effect.

In a Sunday press conference, Elicker said that the city had received multiple complaints from residents that large and small New Haven grocers continue to defy orders Lamont’s orders to reduce occupancy by 50 percent, keep customers six feet apart, clearly mark one-way aisles and put up signs that display the rules. The governor also encouraged food establishments to install plexiglass shields at checkout aisles, although this is not a requirement.

Elicker declined to specify which stores were the subject of shoppers’ complaints but said that he plans to dispatch city health inspectors to enforce the governor’s order. The mayor is prepared to force store closures if necessary, he said. With Monday’s updates to SeeClickFix, residents too can play a role in helping city officials locate and address violations of public health directives.

“During this unprecedented public health emergency, we want to provide every tool at our disposal to help New Haven residents stay connected to the information, services, and assistance they need to stay safe, well, and at home,” Elicker said. 

SeeClickFix was founded in New Haven in 2008 and has since been adopted by scores of local governments. To date, it has been used to address 79,892 requests in the Elm City.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu