About a month before San Diego county leaders mandated that all of us wear a face covering, they rolled out a Public Health Order requiring that all essential workers wear one.
If you spotted an essential worker without one, the county wanted you to file a complaint by contacting 211 to describe the violation and name the business and address where it happened.
During the first week of the order, NBC 7 Investigates filed a public record request for copies of the complaints. Nearly a month later, a county spokesman handed over the records.
Although heavily redacted, the records reveal hundreds of businesses were caught off guard by the county’s order.
Some told NBC 7 they couldn’t find enough face masks for their workers due to a shortage of supplies. Another company said there was “confusion” and “inconsistencies” during the first few weeks of the pandemic, and questions about whether wearing face masks was even a safe and sound practice.
To see all of the complaints we received, click here.
The largest offender of the public health order proved to be the "Golden Arches." People filed 22 complaints about McDonald's restaurant workers not wearing face masks at locations across the county, just within that first week.
Walmart store workers garnered the second-highest number of complaints with 14 in that same one-week period. And 7-Eleven employees received the third-highest number of violation complaints with nine during that first week of the order.
But NBC 7 didn’t just find alleged violations at restaurants, big-box retailers and convenience stores.
A surprising number of complaints described workers without face masks at hospitals, pharmacies, and senior living facilities - including several complaints against Sharp Healthcare hospitals the Sienna at Otay Ranch senior assisted living facility.
One worker filed a 211 complaint against his or her own employer LabCorp, a private lab conducting COVID-19 tests for local hospitals. The complaint alleged the company hadn’t handed out any face masks to its workers.
Folks in San Diego that NBC 7 spoke with were stunned by the sheer number of 211 complaints, and by who the complaints allege were forgoing wearing face masks.
"Wow,” says Lisa Wilson. “It is disturbing. Definitely essential workers, they need to be aware of the law and protect all of us. It's not just them, it's everybody."
“I think if anyone should be wearing the facemasks, it should be the essential workers,” says Gabriella Anastasi. “They're coming face to face with people day in and day out."
More From NBC 7 Investigates:
That said, Anastasi thinks a different set of standards applies to the general population.
“I also do believe that we have a right to choose whether or not we wear them,” says Anastasi.
Frank Dekker disagrees.
“I think it’s important,” says Dekker, who believes everyone, not just essential workers should wear masks. “It's not only protecting you but it's protecting the other person too.”
Local law enforcement has yet to issue a single citation for violating the face mask order, according to records reviewed by NBC 7 Investigates.
Below are statements from some of the companies accused of violating the face mask order via 211 complaints:
“Crew members are the heart and soul of every McDonald’s restaurant, and their health and wellbeing is a top priority that has guided every decision made.
McDonald’s and its independent franchisees have distributed more than 100 million face masks to restaurant employees across the country and strongly encouraged the use of DIY masks before non-medical grade masks were available in our supply chain. Operational requirements are in place around the use of masks and we are reinforcing its importance with our company-owned and franchised restaurants on a regular basis.
Our independent franchisees, along with corporate-owned restaurants, have been taking an extensive number of steps to make sure restaurant employees feel supported, safe, and appreciated. This includes changing nearly 50 processes since the pandemic began to protect health and safety and implementing new procedures, such as providing PPE, including masks and gloves for all restaurant employees.” - Michael Vizza, McDonald’s USA Spokesperson
“Walmart is continually implementing practices to help create a safe environment for its customers and associates. A breakdown of what the company is doing can be found at Walmart.com/coronavirus.
We’ve spoken to store and market leadership regarding your inquiry about San Diego County’s April directive requiring essential workers wear protective face coverings. Upon learning from County leadership the mandate was in place, a communication was sent to local store associates instructing them to immediately comply with the ordinance. If an associate didn’t do so, he/she was given proper guidance by their store leadership to correct the situation.
Also as a reminder, in mid-April Walmart associates began receiving temperature checks and screenings prior to starting their shifts. On April 20, after all facilities received the supplies, the company mandated all associates must wear protective face coverings throughout their workday.” - Charles Crowson, Walmart spokesman
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Most of our stores in San Diego are owned and operated by 7-Eleven Franchisees. Franchisees operate as independent business owners who are responsible for the day-to-day operation of their stores, and are obligated to comply with all federal, state and local laws related to the operation of their stores. 7-Eleven, Inc. is closely monitoring state and local regulations in relation to COVID-19. We will continue to remind Franchisees of the importance of ensuring their employees are following all state and local regulations.” -7-Eleven, Inc.
“Sharp HealthCare has been compliant with accrediting/regulatory agencies and public health orders at all times since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early weeks of the pandemic, there were inconsistent masking practices in many organizations, largely based on mask availability and confusion regarding whether COVID-19 was droplet or airborne transmitted. As we progressed with information regarding the virus, consistent hospital practices were adopted. Also, non-medical and medical buildings have variation in PPE requirements; specifically, masks versus facial coverings. Non-medical building personnel, such as call center employees, are able to use a facial covering of their own anytime six-foot distancing is not able to be maintained. If it can be maintained, a facial covering is not required.”
“We are not aware of the specific complaint you reference. What I can share is that LabCorp adheres to strict protocols for the safe management of samples within our laboratories, including the use of appropriate personal protective equipment and role-specific safety training. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have closely followed additional guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to safeguard employees and protect patients. In early April, we responded quickly to the recommendation from CDC regarding the use of face coverings in situations where social distancing may not be possible. We provided on-site employees in certain roles with medical masks to protect colleagues and the patients we serve. At the same time, we ordered cloth face coverings for all our employees.”
“We have provided masks to all employees and they are required to wear them (or their own cloth face covering if they choose) while at work as one of the many ways we are helping to ensure the safety of both employees and customers during the pandemic.
We will follow up with this store and any others we are made aware of to reinforce with employees our policy and our mask requirement."
-Mike DeAngelis, Senior Director, Corporate Communications
To find out if a 211 complaint was filed about a business in your neighborhood, search below.