Health Officials Announce Fines For Businesses That Violate COVID-19 Orders

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Rising coronavirus cases and fatalities remain concerning — with four dozen more deaths confirmed today — and the Los Angeles County Health Department announced new enforcement measures on Thursday designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to the county’s top health officer.

Health inspectors have continued to conduct compliance visits to to ensure infection control measures are in place at businesses. Twenty-six restaurants, one grocery store, one pool and 67 other businesses were shut down for Health Officer Order violations. As a result, the L.A. Public Health Department revealed on Thursday a tiered compliance and enforcement plan that will include citations and fines for businesses that continue to violate Health Officer Orders.

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Since March, Public Health received a total of 17,808 Health Officer Order complaints and investigated more than 17,000 restaurants, more than 3,500 grocery stores, more than 600 pools and more than 3,000 other businesses. Most of the businesses under investigation either came into compliance or were working to come into compliance and that’s why they were not closed.

Compliance with the Health Officer Orders is paramount for the long-term reopening of many economic sectors while ensuring the public health and safety of residents, which includes consumers and those who make up the workforce of these sectors.

Beginning at the end of August, county health officer Dr. Muntu Davis told reporters in an online briefing that fines will be issued to businesses that are non-compliant. Those fines range from $100 for the first offense to $500 and a 30 day permit suspension for multiple offenses. This includes businesses licensed and permitted by the Health Department as well as those that are not.

He said inspectors generally try to work with businesses to achieve compliance with the regulations, rather than trying to shut companies down.

“While some may consider (enforcement efforts) punitive or harsh, it’s really about finding a path to reopen our economic sectors,” Davis said.

“This is an unprecedented public health emergency and we’re still learning and adapting as we navigate this crisis,” Davis said. “COVID-19 is not going to disappear overnight. We all want our local businesses to be open and more people to get back to making a living and to thrive, but we all must operate responsibly. Business owners and operators are critical partners in slowing the spread of COVID-19. It protects their employees, it protects their customers and it helps the entire community.”

“At least this week, we’re still seeing concerning data,” county health officer Dr. Muntu Davis told reporters in an online briefing. “There are still high case counts, hospitalizations have exceeded 2,200 people for at least the last four days in a row and tragically people are still dying from COVID-19. But I hope this week marks a turning point, and that we’ll start to see the results of our collective actions to slow the spread of COVID-19. We’re already seeing more positive data,” he said.

“Our daily positivity rate remains flat at or just below 8.5 percent — again, that’s a seven-day average. And while this rate is still higher than what we’d like it to be, it offers some evidence we may be returning to slowing the spread and that our efforts and sacrifices are making a difference.”

The seven-day positivity rate in the county reached as high as 11%
earlier this month.

On Thursday, the county confirmed another 2,014 cases, pushing the overall total to 166,848 since the start of the pandemic.

The county also announced another 49 deaths, although two of those fatalities were reported Wednesday afternoon by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. A total of 4,262 people have now died as a result of the virus, according to the county.

The county also reported that 2,210 people were hospitalized as of Thursday with the virus, excluding Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments. It was the fifth day in a row the number has exceeded 2,200. But while that number remains just shy of the record set days ago, health officials noted that the steady rise in hospitalizations seen earlier this month appears to have flattened out and may actually be starting to decrease.

Statewide, it’s a different story. California reported a record number of deaths on Thursday and the second-highest new case total of the pandemic. The record was set yesterday.

The death toll rose to a grim 157 people over the prior 24 hours. The previous high, 149, was seen on July 12. That means the total number of COVID-related deaths in the state has now topped 8,000, and stands at 8,027.

California also saw a massive 12,040 new COVID infections on Thursday. That’s just below the record, set on Wednesday, which was 12,807 new cases. On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom said that total was “the highest in the nation.”

With recent summer-like weather, Davis said inspectors also visited 174 residential swimming pools and also found “generally good” compliance with rules limiting capacity, although he said there was “room for improvement” in the spacing of pool furniture to ensure physical distancing.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday the county had no immediate plans to institute stricter stay-at-home or business- closure orders despite the recent uptick in cases. Davis’ general optimism Thursday appeared to echo that sentiment, but he said it will depend on the behavior of residents.

“We all have a responsibility to follow these orders,” Davis said.

“That means we stay at home as much as possible. It means we practice physical distancing from those we don’t live with, and it means we must wear face coverings when we leave our house and are around others. These aren’t just obligations, they’re acts of love and kindness,” he said.

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