San Diego County

Do Restaurant Inspections Now Consider COVID-19 Safety Measures?

San Diego County’s Environmental Health Department said they only have the authority to cite for food-related mistakes or food-safety violations, not pandemic-related safety violations

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COVID-19 has hobbled San Diego restaurants and forced restaurant owners to change the way they do business. 

Faced with what seems to be ever-changing guidelines, owners are now having to play catch up in hopes of keeping their doors open. 

In March, San Diego County Health Inspectors, tasked with stopping the spread of the deadly virus, began including COVID-19 safety protocols as part of their inspections of restaurants who may be violating public health order guidelines.

NBC 7 Investigates obtained a list of those protocols, you can read them here. Some of the new protocols inspectors are checking restaurants and bars for include whether employees are getting their temperatures checked, health surveys for employees centered around COVID-19 symptoms, and ensuring that employees are wearing face coverings.

When asked about the letter grades that are displayed in a San Diego County restaurant’s window, the county said those grades do not reflect whether the business is abiding by the new COVID-19 safety measures.

Data obtained by our NBC7 Investigates team reveals more than 7,800 inspections of restaurants and bars have taken place since the beginning of the outbreak in March. 

In March, the county only conducted nine inspections. The next month though, county staff completed more than 1,600.

Of all the inspections since March, only 43 restaurants were ordered to close up shop, however, none strictly due to violating COVID-19 safeguards.

A spokesperson for San Diego County’s Environmental Health Department said they only have the authority to cite for food-related and food processing mistakes or food-safety violations, such as rodents and other sanitary issues. 

Law enforcement entities, such as the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, do have the authority to shut down businesses that blatantly go against the County's health orders, a county spokesperson said. 

Jeff Rossman is the owner and chef of Terra American Bistro. He’s also president of the San Diego chapter of the California Restaurant Association. 

Rossman says he has had to change the way he does business by focusing on curbside takeout as well as adding a small patio in front of his restaurant for outdoor dining. 

“Restaurants in general have always been the safest places because we are regulated on a daily basis,” said Rossman. “The only difference now is that we’ve had to step up our game a little bit.”

“We are down obviously like all the other restaurants,” said Rossman. “We are just trying to make it work.”

To lookup a restaurant in San Diego County and review its latest public health inspections, click here. 

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