Restaurants in Contra Costa County that refuse to screen customers for proof of COVID-19 vaccination may soon find that health inspectors will no longer behave well with them.
On Tuesday, the Supervisory Board made it clear that restaurants should be fined if they do not comply with the district’s directive that eateries, gyms and bars cannot serve unvaccinated people.
Observers chastised health officials, saying they were not happy to learn from the news organization’s report that Contra Costa Health Services received at least 80 complaints about disturbing restaurants in November, but did not impose any fines.
“It seems to me that the time for education is over, the time for providing information is over,” said supervisor Karen Mitchoff, adding that the issue “has moved into an area where we have to cite and release any legal document to turn them off. “
She and supervisor John Joey said they were concerned that health director Anna Roth did not appear to be aware of the lax enforcement standards.
When Roth insisted the department hadn’t formally changed its approach to handling customer complaints about naughty restaurants, Mitchoff stepped in to say that “some of your employees” did choose to refrain from imposing fines.
After learning that the county did not impose any fines in November, Mitchoff confirmed with one of the staff that the health department was “only educating” about the rules.
Roth said the health department handled 99 complaints last month and is actively investigating 13 restaurants suspected of not screening diners on the premises for vaccination cards or a negative COVID-19 test. Fines and other penalties are not going anywhere, she assured the board.
Roth said the department will make some internal changes so that her office has more direct oversight of violations, and she also promised that some restaurants that have been repeatedly cited for non-compliance will be fined.
She added that most restaurants are quick to comply when approached by the health department with complaints.
“It’s really a lack of understanding and perhaps even unawareness,” Roth said. “But we do have deviations, and that’s what this growing deterrent penalty structure is for.”
The Department of Health reviews restaurants almost exclusively on the basis of complaints, so non-compliance can be much more common.
“I’ve been to at least half a dozen restaurants that don’t check for a vaccination card,” a Western District resident, who did not give his name, told inspectors. “And I’m not vaccinated. I’m proud to say this. “
The county’s vaccination law requires restaurants that ignore official warnings to receive consecutive fines of $ 250, $ 500, and $ 750. If businesses continue to violate the rules, the county can close them if they don’t agree to stop working indoors.
In many cases, execution depends on the violation, Roth said. Typically, the health department gives restaurants two days to comply before taking any further action, but more serious violations mean officials may leave earlier.
Across the county, restaurants are ambivalent about vaccinations, which only Berkeley and San Francisco have instituted in addition to Contra Costa County.
Earlier this fall, Lumpy’s Diner in Antioch was fined $ 750 for non-compliance, but remains open. In an interview last month, the co-owner of the restaurant said it did not intend to comply with health regulations, considering it a violation of personal freedoms.
Joya said the problem with non-payment of fines is that restaurants that are currently following orders may make it easier to check vaccination cards if they think they can get away with it.
“If they see that businesses that do not comply with the rules do not face any consequences, they bring up the question and say, ‘Hey, I work very hard, I support this, why are not the restaurants that do not comply with the rules.” compliance with the consequences of receiving? ‘Joey said.
Supervisor Diane Burgis said she sympathizes with small business restaurants who are stuck between demanding the vaccine and customers who don’t want to be injected. “If they convert, they will receive the strength of all these people,” she said.
Mitchoff said she has little sympathy for companies that ignore the mandate.
“They disrupt order and put the public at risk,” she said, adding that the emergence of the omicron variant is making the situation even more acute. “I go to many small businesses, the rest of the population does the same. … But no, we’re done. “