03 Jul Jon Cartu Support: Have Bay Area restaurants been following COVID-19 rules? He…
In recent weeks, all Bay Area counties have allowed restaurants to restart outdoor dining operations, with some reopening indoor dining, too — until Gov. Gavin Newsom ended that practice Wednesday in three of those counties due to surging coronavirus outbreaks. Owners have been put to the test reconfiguring their establishments, juggling dine-in and takeout, and implementing protocols to keep their employees and customers safe.
But, as more businesses reopen, record numbers of coronavirus cases are being reported throughout the state. This prompted Newsom in a news conference June 22 to encourage the public to read up on the state’s coronavirus guidelines for restaurants and to reach out to local government agencies if one is not complying.
“When you go to a restaurant and it’s clear that they’re not practicing what we are preaching, report that,” he said. “Give us the tools to enforce.”
In Los Angeles County, health officials visited 2,000 restaurants and found that half were not in compliance with coronavirus guidelines. With many people wondering whether Bay Area restaurants have followed protocols since reopening for dine-in service, we reached out to some of the county health and law enforcement departments to find out.
What are the guidelines for restaurants that reopen for dine-in operations?
In mid-May, a 12-page document issued statewide provides guidelines for restaurants to begin offering dine-in service, including establishing a COVID-19 site-specific plan, training employees on coronavirus prevention measures, providing temperature- and symptom-screening processes for employees, implementing protocols such as social distancing, sanitizing measures and wearing face coverings.
Some key guidelines include requiring employees who interact with others to wear face masks, and patrons to wear them until they are seated and anytime they leave the table. Social distancing can be accomplished by placing markers on the floor separating customers by at least 6 feet, with tables and chairs in different parties placed 6 feet apart, or by installing barriers between tables.
Are restaurants following protocols?
San Francisco restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining on June 12, and Jenna Lane, spokeswoman for the S.F. Department of Public Health, said that overall restaurants are doing “very well” with following guidelines and “owners and operators want to do the right thing.”
Alameda County allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining on June 19. The Department of Environmental Health said site-specific plans are largely being followed. In Marin County, where outdoor dining has been allowed since June 1, more than 90% of establishments are meeting the best practices during routine inspections conducted in early May, according to Rebecca Ng, deputy director for Marin County Environmental Health Services.
In San Mateo County, outdoor dining reopened on June 6 and indoor dining followed on June 18. Stephanie Josephson, spokesperson for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, said she does not believe any coronavirus-related citations have been issued for businesses within their jurisdiction. Kathy Kleinbaum, assistant city manager of San Mateo, said code compliance inspectors work with restaurants to fix violations on the spot in the city, and so far there have not been any repeat offenders.
How are the guidelines enforced?
Lane said that in San Francisco, if any issues are not corrected on-site, the health department can issue a notice of violation or temporarily suspend a permit.
Restaurants that do not comply with guidelines in Alameda County are referred to a team that is part of the Health Care Services Agency. Since the coronavirus is not known to be a food-borne illness, inspectors work with restaurants to fix violations rather than issue citations.
In Marin County, Ng said violations are noted on inspection reports, but the health department doesn’t follow up or issue a citation. If more than one complaint is made, an inspector may visit the business, but the sheriff and police handle enforcement.
That’s similar to the situation in Contra Costa County. Karl Fischer, spokesman for Contra Costa Health Services, said if inspectors see a violation, restaurant management is reminded of the health order requirements. But handling of complaints is the responsibility of the local police department.
The same goes for San Mateo county, where residents can call the sheriff’s office for any coronavirus-related issues that they see, Josephson said.
What are the most common coronavirus-related violations?
In Alameda County, the most frequent coronavirus-related violations are noncompliance with face covering and social distancing requirements. San Mateo County’s violations are usually related to tables being placed too close together, according to Kleinbaum. Marin County’s main complaints are employees and customers not wearing masks, Ng said.
What happens if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
In general, employees who test positive for coronavirus should stay home and isolate for 14 days. Employers are instructed to keep the identity of infected workers confidential. Anyone who has had close contact with the employee, which means being within 6 feet of that person for 15 minutes or longer, is directed to stay home. All other employees should be informed of their possible exposure and to monitor their symptoms for 14 days. Work areas used by the employee should be closed down and disinfected, and in some cases, that means the entire facility.
In Marin County, the owner should close the restaurant for sanitizing, and may reopen after that, Ng said. Closing for an extended period of time is the restaurant owner’s…