Compliance enforcement

County Ramps up COVID Compliance, Sends out Dozens of Cease-and-Desist Orders

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County officials sent out more than 17 cease-and-desist letters to 10 organizations around San Diego on Monday after compliance teams fanned out over the weekend and observed operators allegedly violating the new Purple Tier public health guidelines.

The existence of the letters was announced Monday afternoon by County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who, along with chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Greg Cox and County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten, appeared at a hastily called COVID-19 briefing at the County Administration Building.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming breaks down where the letters were sent, and what the county hopes they will inspire.
Several businesses in San Diego were given cease and desist orders in an effort to stop their indoor operations.

"Over the weekend, our enforcement teams went out and investigated a number of complaints that we've received, and today we served 10 cease-and-desist orders to a variety of settings throughout San Diego County that are in willful and blatant violation of public health orders," Fletcher said.

Two churches, five yoga studios, eight fitness centers and four restaurants and restaurant/bars were the recipients of the letters, which were sent out to addresses from Carlsbad to El Cajon to Ocean Beach to Ramona to Encinitas to Coronado (click each name to read the letters):

Fit Athletic Club is one of four defendants in a lawsuit filed against the county and state last week challenging the ban on indoor operations. A judge was expected to hear their case this week.

On Tuesday, with a cease and desist letter secured to the front doors of their establishments, the athletic club complied and shut down its operations.

a cease and desist letter at Fit Athletic Club
NBC 7
A cease and desist letter issued by San Diego County is posted on the door of Fit Athletic Club in Mission Beach.

The letters were sent as the county begins to ramp up its enforcement efforts due to skyrocketing case rates around the nation, including in San Diego County.

"Unfortunately, [the] surge is now here," Cox said, kicking off the briefing. "We've seen that number steadily rise to 500, 600 and, yesterday, a record 1,087 cases…. We know that businesses have been hurt by these restrictions, but we cannot allow those feelings to weaken our resolve."

Cox said he and Wooten had sent out a letter on Friday urging all of the region's mayors to step up enforcement of the public health orders.

"We are fully prepared to enforce compliance with our local law-enforcment agencies and other jurisdictions," Cox said.

A local gym with several locations in the county has temporarily closed its doors after it was one of the several businesses given a cease and desist order. NBC 7’s Nicole Gomez speaks with some gym members who just found out about the closure.

The dramatic local increase in coronavirus cases was a disappointment -- but not a surprise -- to Wooten.

"We are in an emergency situation," Wooten said. "COVID-19 is not going away, and we must act. We must act for our own health. We must act for the health of our family, our colleagues and our friends, act for the economy and just act and act now. This is urgent."

Cox said the days of the county offering a carrot had given way to the the use of the stick

"Our goal up to this point has been to educate and encourage people to comply with the public health orders," Cox said. "We know now that we have to take a much stronger position in regards to enforcing tha compliance."

Fletcher concurred, saying that inconsistent enforcement in the past had possibly aided in the spread of the virus.

"We will continue to move agressively and swiftly for those entities that are in clear violation of the public health orders," Fletcher said.

NBC 7's Mari Payton has the latest on the county's effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Cox said enforcement would not end with the cease-and-desist orders.

"If that is not effective, we can actually go in with a closure order to those businesses that are not complying," Cox said. "That's obviously a last resort. We don't want to do that. Our [focus all] along has been to bring about compliance, and we're going to continue to work in that vein."

And it's not just businesses who need to follow the public health orders, Cox said.

"Well, if it's in a private home, law enforcement can go out and tell them they are in violation," Cox said. "They could be issued a citation. At the point, it would be something that ultimately involves a court hearing."

Monday's cease-and-desist orders are not the first the county has issued, of course. The Gym in Vista and MetroFlex Gym in Oceanside in North County were also targeted, as were a pair of strip clubs. Those adult-entertainment operations fought back in court, though, and on Nov. 7 a judge issued a temporary restraining order keeping the county and state from enforcing the orders barring live entertainment at Pacers Showgirls International in the Midway District and Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club in Kearny Mesa.

The club was operating despite live entertainment being forbidden under the current public health order. NBC 7's Catherine Garcia has the details.

Also in August, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, for the first time, charged a local business owner for violating a public health order. The owner of Ramona Fitness Center, Peter San Nicolas, faced five misdemeanor charges at one time, though the charges were reportedly dropped in September.

In July, a cease-and-desist order was sent to a different campus of the Awaken Church, this one located in Kearny Mesa.

It appears the church isn't interested in following the rules, and it's also unclear if county leaders will take any action. NBC 7s Artie Ojeda has the story.

In addition, eight cease-and-desist letters were sent out to "party homes" in the College Area in late October in an effort to put a stop to Halloween bashes neare SDSU.

NBC 7's Jackie Crea spoke with students who feel like they're being unfairly targeted.
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