L.A. County receiving up to 3K complaints about businesses’ noncompliance over safety measures

A man wearing gloves and mask joins the line of shoppers as thye wait for Ralphs Super Market to open in Castaic on Tuesday morning. Dan Watson/The Signal

Los Angeles County Health Officer Muntu Davis said Thursday the Department of Public Health responds to 2,000 to 3,000 complaints a week over businesses not complying with COVID-19 safety measures, with face coverings among the most common. 

“We’re not seeing the compliance that we need, with the Public Health directives in place, to keep people’s health and livelihoods safe,” he said during a virtual media briefing. 

The department’s inspectors have worked seven days a week, conducting unannounced site visits in response to “high-volume complaints” that officials receive via phone, web or email, said Davis. 

Face masks in public are mandatory countywide and across California but the matter has become the center of conflicts involving customers refusing to wear them or employees not wearing them properly in the workplace. 

“Among the most common compliance issues our inspectors encounter when they go out are an inconsistent and improper use of face coverings. This can include wearing a face covering just below the nose, wearing them below the chin,” said Davis, adding that they must cover both the nose and mouth. “It’s one of our most effective strategies that we have to prevent transmission.” 

Across 52 investigations at restaurants, health inspectors have found that the most common non-compliance issues among employers include a lack of physical distancing in the kitchen area among employees, infection protocols are not shared with workers and customers, and that employers are unaware of requirements to quarantine employees who are close contacts of those who are positive. Among employees, the most common issue was not reporting symptoms or illness. 

In 47 grocery store investigations and 23 at wholesale food manufacturing sites, the most common issues among employers included not sanitizing high-touch surfaces, failing to regularly monitor the maximum capacity of stores to prevent overcrowding and not posting infographics and signage for patrons. Employees also failed to report symptoms and to physically distance in break rooms. 

When it comes to enforcement, Davis said the worst-case scenario is the issuance of fines or having to close down a business over repeated violations, but said, “It’s very rare that we have to go to that level but it always is an option on the table.” 

With a high volume of complaints, he added that Public Health officials have been in conversation with the state about assistance in providing oversight and regulatory authority. 

In Santa Clarita, Public Health had received more than 90 complaints in May about businesses defying safety measures, many of which involved face coverings. Complaints were attributed to smoke and vape shops, barbershops, car washes and food vendors without permits, according to Public Health on May 28. 

Public Health officials did not return requests Thursday to provide updated information on local complaints. 

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