Social Media Account Promotes San Diego Businesses Defying Public Health Orders

NBC Universal, Inc.

Businesses across the county are hanging on by a thread, forced to partially or completely close because of the pandemic.

Some, however, are choosing to break the rules. Now, those businesses are getting promotion on social media.

The Instagram account San Diego Free is public. On it, you'll find dozens of businesses that are currently open and operating in San Diego County - salons, gyms, restaurants, wineries, sports rentals, even a rooftop movie theater. State health officials say most of these businesses shouldn't be offering these kinds of services and that some, in fact, shouldn't be open at all.

“We are taking a big hit,” says Abner Figueroa, co-owner of Coal Bros Taqueria downtown. “But we believe that this is the path that is going to end this pandemic the fastest.”

Because COVID-19 public health orders restrict restaurants to takeout and delivery, sales are down by more than 50%, Figueroa said. Still, = he believes obeying the rules during this unprecedented deadly pandemic is a matter of conscience.

“It just feels morally right,” Figueroa said.

Down the street, there is a very different approach at The Local.  NBC 7's camera was rolling while people dined and drank outside and inside the downtown restaurant.

Just two days ago, The Local was featured on San Diego Free.

NBC 7 reached out to the San Diego Free account holder, who sent a statement saying, in part, “... people who would like to continue to dine out should be able to at their own risk, since they are able to shop in department stores and other giant corporate consumer stores.... I encourage people to follow all guidelines and rules, and stay home if they feel unsafe. For those who are still open to dining safely at restaurants -- this page is for them.”

Just three days ago, the county board of supervisors voted in favor of ramping up code enforcement.  One of the biggest changes allows county workers to use social media accounts like San Diego Free to crack down on enforcement, as opposed to waiting until someone makes a formal complaint.

In the meantime, Figueroa said, the fastest way for us all to feel safe dining indoors again is simple.

“If you really want to support small businesses,” Figueroa said, “order takeout and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Even with this new proactive approach to code enforcement, county officials have their work cut out for them, having received more than 17,000 complaints about businesses defying orders, more than half in the last month alone.

Business owners caught defying public health orders don't just face a cease-and-desist order. The board also voted to make noncompliant businesses ineligible for county relief funds.

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