County raises stakes in battle against COVID-19

Olive Terrace is one of many restaurants adapting to new health regulations mandating outdoor dining and social distancing. July 14, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.
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In an effort to protect public health, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion Tuesday that will allow county Department of Public Health officials to impose fines and revoke permits for businesses not complying with COVID-19 health orders.

This comes as Public Health has continued to report an increase in community transmission as restrictions are lifted.

Through these modifications to the stay-at-home orders, Public Health inspectors have observed widespread non-compliance, according to the motion, which also states that ensuring that these businesses comply with health orders is critical to containing and controlling the spread of COVID-19. 

Data generated by the Foursquare app June 20, the first weekend that bars in L.A. County were permitted to reopen, showed that more than 500,000 people visited nightlife spots across the county.

In addition, on the weekend of June 27-28, Public Health inspectors found that 49% of bars and 33% of restaurants were not adhering to physical distancing protocols indoors, while in 54% of bars and 44% of restaurants workers were found not wearing face coverings, Ferrer said. 

“If we hope to slow the rapid increase in new cases while still allowing businesses to reopen, we must ensure that businesses are following the health officer orders and guidelines,” the motion stated.

Even so, more recent reports by Public Health inspectors, who visited 1,101 restaurants from July 3-5, found that 99% were complying with the order to only provide outdoor dining, takeout or delivery and were wearing face coverings, while 98% were complying with physical distancing, Ferrer said.

Under current rules, Public Health inspectors visit businesses violating regulations three to five times before shutting them down, which can take several weeks, nor do inspectors have authority to issue fines.

Now, Public Health has 14 days to report back to the Board of Supervisors with a plan for enforcement, which details the amount a business can be fined that depends on the maximum occupancy of the business and the severity of violations, while allowing a business’ operating permit to be revoked with its second violation.

“Business have had to repeatedly relearn and reorganize how they can operate within the parameters of COVID-19,” said county Supervisor Kathryn Barger of the 5th District, which includes the SCV. “While compliance was slow at first with only 5% of restaurants, 67% of restaurants are now in full compliance of the health officer orders. Restaurants continue to gain an understanding of what is expected and have had the appropriate time to stock up and structure. I support those business owners and workers who have been following the public health guidance issued by the county. While I do not believe additional fines will solve issues around compliance, it is my hope that this effort broadens the conversation to ensure all sectors of our county are doing their part to ensure we can reopen safely.”

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