News

Santa Clara County considers fines for COVID-19 health code violations

Individuals could face penalties ranging from $25-$500

Customers dine while pedestrians walk around on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View on July 2. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Neglecting to wear a mask in public or failing to socially distance could soon carry a hefty fine of up to $500 in Santa Clara County, according to a new proposal cracking down on those who violate COVID-19 public health orders.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday, Aug. 11, on whether to empower law enforcement officials and other county employees to issue civil penalties to residents who fail to comply with mandatory public health restrictions. If approved, the move would greatly expand the power of the county to impose fines on residents and businesses that violate the health regulations, including failing to wear face coverings outside of the home.

County officials say they have received reports of a "substantial" number of violations in recent months, which has contributed to a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Yet to date, the strategy to deal with these violators — referring those complaints to the district attorney's office — was never really suited for the so-called "risk reduction" orders that are necessary to make reopening businesses and other activities safe.

"The success of these orders — and the county's ability to avoid a return to shelter-in-place — relies in part on effective and efficient enforcement," according to a county staff report.

Since the county's public health restrictions loosened on July 13, there has been a nearly 43% jump in cases, from 7,537 on July 13 to 10,767 as of Aug. 2. Hospitalizations during that time also increased from 144 to 181 during the same period.

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"Because COVID-19 spreads exponentially if risk reduction protocols are not strictly followed, any such violations could cause many preventable illnesses and deaths," county officials said. "These violations also jeopardize local social and economic well being, increasing the potential for renewed curtailment of business operations, school closures and activity restrictions."

Under the proposed rules, individuals could face penalties ranging from $25 to $500, depending on the gravity of the violation, repeat offenses and circumstances, according to the draft resolution. Businesses, on the other hand, could face steeper penalties ranging from $250 to $5,000.

Businesses are under increased scrutiny, in part, because of serious violations reported to date. County officials say there are "numerous" instances of businesses flouting the rules for reporting positive cases in the workplace — hindering the ability to do contact tracing — and several health care facilities have refused to provide tests for people at elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.

Several counties in the Bay Area, including San Mateo and Contra Costa counties, have recently passed similar ordinances imposing fines on health order violators, but there are some key differences in the proposed Santa Clara County health order. The ordinance would allow for a "grace period" in the event that the violation can be remedied, giving the person or business who ran afoul with the rules between 24 and 72 hours to fix the problem.

The grace period is not mandatory and is subject to discretion, but would be considered the "default" option, according to the county staff report, and would allow most residents and businesses to avoid paying a fine. No such grace period exists in the San Mateo County ordinance, but Santa Clara officials say the softer touch is consistent with its focus on education and outreach over enforcement.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Santa Clara County considers fines for COVID-19 health code violations

Individuals could face penalties ranging from $25-$500

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Aug 7, 2020, 2:27 pm

Neglecting to wear a mask in public or failing to socially distance could soon carry a hefty fine of up to $500 in Santa Clara County, according to a new proposal cracking down on those who violate COVID-19 public health orders.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday, Aug. 11, on whether to empower law enforcement officials and other county employees to issue civil penalties to residents who fail to comply with mandatory public health restrictions. If approved, the move would greatly expand the power of the county to impose fines on residents and businesses that violate the health regulations, including failing to wear face coverings outside of the home.

County officials say they have received reports of a "substantial" number of violations in recent months, which has contributed to a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Yet to date, the strategy to deal with these violators — referring those complaints to the district attorney's office — was never really suited for the so-called "risk reduction" orders that are necessary to make reopening businesses and other activities safe.

"The success of these orders — and the county's ability to avoid a return to shelter-in-place — relies in part on effective and efficient enforcement," according to a county staff report.

Since the county's public health restrictions loosened on July 13, there has been a nearly 43% jump in cases, from 7,537 on July 13 to 10,767 as of Aug. 2. Hospitalizations during that time also increased from 144 to 181 during the same period.

"Because COVID-19 spreads exponentially if risk reduction protocols are not strictly followed, any such violations could cause many preventable illnesses and deaths," county officials said. "These violations also jeopardize local social and economic well being, increasing the potential for renewed curtailment of business operations, school closures and activity restrictions."

Under the proposed rules, individuals could face penalties ranging from $25 to $500, depending on the gravity of the violation, repeat offenses and circumstances, according to the draft resolution. Businesses, on the other hand, could face steeper penalties ranging from $250 to $5,000.

Businesses are under increased scrutiny, in part, because of serious violations reported to date. County officials say there are "numerous" instances of businesses flouting the rules for reporting positive cases in the workplace — hindering the ability to do contact tracing — and several health care facilities have refused to provide tests for people at elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.

Several counties in the Bay Area, including San Mateo and Contra Costa counties, have recently passed similar ordinances imposing fines on health order violators, but there are some key differences in the proposed Santa Clara County health order. The ordinance would allow for a "grace period" in the event that the violation can be remedied, giving the person or business who ran afoul with the rules between 24 and 72 hours to fix the problem.

The grace period is not mandatory and is subject to discretion, but would be considered the "default" option, according to the county staff report, and would allow most residents and businesses to avoid paying a fine. No such grace period exists in the San Mateo County ordinance, but Santa Clara officials say the softer touch is consistent with its focus on education and outreach over enforcement.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

iSez
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Aug 8, 2020 at 12:30 pm
iSez, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Aug 8, 2020 at 12:30 pm
24 people like this

Yes! I’m tired of seeing people wearing masks but exposed noses! NY Pizza cashier had the mask on his chin! Costco, Walmart, and other employees have exposed their noses too. [Portion removed.]

I don’t know how the authority will enforce this; I don’t think they will.


David
Registered user
another community
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:02 am
David, another community
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:02 am
2 people like this

Penalty is not good


slc
Registered user
another community
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:36 am
slc, another community
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:36 am
15 people like this

I really hope they pass this measure. It works. I saw it in force in Carmel and in Monterey where everyone was wearing a mask. Social distancing was definitely still an issue but without the masks, there's no protection at all. Why we can't follow the public health guidelines without having to resort to fines and threats, I don't know. But if that's what it takes, I support it.


Nancy Lowe
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:38 am
Nancy Lowe, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:38 am
Like this comment

#SaveOurChildren


Really??
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:41 am
Really??, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:41 am
2 people like this

"Neglecting to wear a mask in public"
Can someone please provide the specific definition/description of when masks 'must'/'should' be worn. The above is insufficient. A link to the current, official, State of CA or Santa Clara County statement. I don't see such a link in the article.

Note, definition of "Responsible Party" in the proposed civil penalty resolution says: Any person or entity that owns, possesses, or controls any parcel of real property in the County upon which a violation of this Ordinance is maintained.
So if you own your house and do not wear a mask in your yard, are you in violation?

Finally, unless and until the county goes for full enforcement (for which they have insufficient personnel at the moment), then such laws are not only just for show, but also erode the general respect by the public for governmental bodies.


Really??
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:51 am
Really??, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:51 am
5 people like this

This CA Health Dept link Web Link
Has this --
People in California must wear face coverings when they are in the high-risk situations listed below:
(*) While outdoors in public spaces when maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet from persons who are not members of the same household or residence is not feasible

So all you gotta do is stay 6 feet away.
Passing closer than that for less than 2-3 seconds is arguably not a health risk (unless directly coughed upon).


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:54 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:54 am
8 people like this

"So all you gotta do is stay 6 feet away."

Here is the much better San Mateo directive:


"Wearing a Face Covering is recommended while engaged in outdoor land-based recreation such as walking, hiking, bicycling, or running, but not required unless conditions make it impossible to maintain Social Distancing Requirements (as defined herein), including maintaining at least six feet of separation from all other people.

Accordingly, each person engaged in such activity must bring a Face Covering and wear that Face Covering in circumstances where it is difficult to maintain compliance with Social Distancing Requirements (as defined herein), and that they carry the Face Covering in a readily accessible location, such as around the person’s neck or in a pocket, for such use.

Because running or bicycling causes people to more forcefully expel airborne particles, making the usual minimum six feet distance less adequate, runners and cyclists must take steps to avoid exposing others to those particles, which include the following measures: wearing a Face Covering when possible; crossing the street when running to avoid sidewalks with pedestrians; slowing down and moving to the side when unable to leave the sidewalk and nearing other people; never spitting; and avoiding running or cycling directly in front of or behind another runner or cyclist who is not in the same household."


Really??
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Aug 12, 2020 at 9:49 am
Really??, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Aug 12, 2020 at 9:49 am
2 people like this

1. San Mateo directive is not Santa Clara
2. it says wearing is "recommended .. but still not required"
3. it still says "where it is difficult" - for which a clear definition is not available
4. advises "runners and cyclists must take steps to avoid exposing others to those particles"

I have no problem with #4. It is, after all, a polite and reasonable thing to do. Give others as wide a berth as possible. My experience, perhaps limited, is that most do. I'd like to see the non-runners and non-cyclists do their part as well to assist in avoidance (such as stepping off a pathway so that a runner/cyclist does not have to veer off into the dirt/grass/bushes). Common courtesy by all to all without recriminations would be nice. Not all do that. But we could try to do our part.


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