enforcement

San Diego County Leaders Aim to Crack Down on COVID-19 Compliance

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San Diego County plans to crack down on businesses that won’t follow the public health order as COVID-19 cases continue to increase, propelled by outbreaks in community settings like restaurants, churches, and gyms.

At a COVID-19 public health briefing Wednesday, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said county leaders know that more needs to be done when it comes to the enforcement of local COVID-19 restrictions.

Fletcher said the county plans to set up a health compliance hotline and email where people can report any violations of San Diego County’s public health order. Right now, those types of calls are being taken at the county’s 211 line, but this new hotline would allow reporting parties to speak to a county employee one-on-one, in more detail.

Fletcher said the county is also looking at bringing in additional staff to handle those “egregious cases” of non-compliance, as well as teams to assess outbreaks and pre-outbreaks. Fletcher said the county hopes to coordinate with individual cities in San Diego to handle the enforcement.

Fletcher said the additional steps to ramp up COVID-19 enforcement will be discussed at the County Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 4.

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.

The Gym in Pacific Beach, for instance, remained open despite the public health order, and was cited for doing so. On Wednesday, a county spokesperson confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak at The Gym, meaning at least three people there had tested positive for the virus.

NBC 7’s Artie Ojeda pressed county leaders for answers about stricter, definitive and immediate enforcement at Wednesday’s media briefing in regard to non-compliant businesses.

Dr. Wilma Wooten said enforcement teams have been acting “as quickly as possible,” once they are given the information about outbreaks at certain businesses, which is what she said happened at The Gym. Last week, when the county asked The Gym to shut down, they did not know there was an outbreak there.

“We worked with them to close, and they closed on Monday,” Wooten said, of The Gym.

It was not clear if the infections occurred while the business was operating defiantly or before the public health order was modified on July 6, reports NBC 7's Artie Ojeda.

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.

On Wednesday night, Awaken Church held a service outside, with little adherence to face mask and distancing mandates. NBC 7 asked the county why that church continues to defy the order, and what, if any, consequences exist for repeat violations like this.

It's the third non-compliant worship service held at Awaken Church in three weeks.

“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 Wednesday, San Diego County public health officials reported 282 more cases of COVID-19 locally, and five new deaths. There were six new community outbreaks, making 24 outbreaks in the past seven days.

Since Feb. 14, 2020, there have been 28,287 positive COVID-19 cases in San Diego County and 552 related deaths. We will continue to monitor those daily numbers and bring you that coverage here.

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