The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan that would allow a "safe reopening compliance team" to crack down on businesses that refuse to follow the county's public health order.
The county administration officer presented a strategy focused on targeting three types of violators, starting with the most egregious cases first -- those who blatantly disregard the order to social distance and avoid mass gatherings.
The county board voted 3-2 to approve the first tier of the enforcement team targeting businesses that don't comply with reopening mandates.
The next level of enforcement would target businesses or groups that have experienced community outbreaks, which is when three or more people connected to one location, who are not members of the same household, contract COVID-19.
Finally, the county is looking into ways to work with less serious violators who have been reported to them by concerned individuals. Complaints often include businesses that are operating in a manner not consistent with county standards like one that doesn't enforce social distancing or wearing face coverings.
A compliance call center has also been established so the public can submit complaints of violations. The goal is for the team to determine how serious the violation is in order to alleviate some of the burden from local law enforcement divisions that need to "focus on the elements of their mission."
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said in a previous coronavirus briefing that the county hopes to coordinate with individual cities in San Diego to handle enforcement.
The call center is now active. Those wishing to report violations in the county of San Diego can call (858) 694-2900.
Previously, those types of calls are being taken at the county’s 211 phone line. In July alone, the county received 400 phone calls via 211. But this new hotline would allow reporting parties to speak to a county employee one-on-one, in more detail.
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San Diego County’s Public Health Order has been updated many times since the coronavirus pandemic reached the region in mid-March. The guidelines in the document are meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 in San Diego County.
Right now, the public health order still states that indoor dining rooms at restaurants must remain closed (food can be served on patios and outdoor dining areas). Indoor operations at gyms, salons, and barbershops must also remain closed. Churches can conduct their services outside, but the health order states that those gatherings should be limited in size and attendees should keep physical distance from one another.
But not every business is following those guidelines.
On Monday, the District Attorney's Office announced it has filed criminal charges against its first business owner allegedly operating in violation of the public health order.
The DA's Office said despite several warnings, owner Peter Sans Nicolas continued to operate -- in June while it was not allowed at all and in July while gyms were required to operate outdoors, not indoors.
The business owner told NBC 7 he was aware of the violation but would continue to run his business however he needed to because he felt like he had no other choice. He was critical of the DA's decision to charge him on Monday.
His fitness center isn't the only one to keep operating despite public health orders. The Gym in Pacific Beach also remained open, indoors, and was cited for doing so.
Last Wednesday, a county spokesperson confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak at The Gym, meaning at least three people there had tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, Awaken Church in Kearny Mesa has also been violating public health orders.
Two weeks ago, the church held an indoor service, and then, another one. The county sent the church cease and desist order. The church was told it could hold services outside, so long as attendees followed the county's face mask and social distancing requirements.
“It is more than clear in our order that the church is responsible for gaining total compliance from their parishioners,” the county told NBC 7. “It is also clear they have not succeeded again this week.”
Earlier this month, the church told NBC 7 it was choosing to remain focused on its members “and maintaining partnerships within the community.”
On Aug. 4, San Diego County public health officials reported 290 new cases of COVID-19 locally, and three new deaths. The county had identified 32 outbreaks in the past seven days -- much more than its trigger of seven in seven days.
Since Feb. 14, 2020 (and as of the county's latest COVID-19 count), there have been 30,516 positive COVID-19 cases in San Diego County and 568 related deaths. We will continue to monitor those daily numbers and bring you that coverage here.
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