Businesses to face immediate fines for violating COVID-19 rules in Santa Clara County
Santa Clara County will have compliance officers monitoring store capacity this weekend. File photo.

Santa Clara County businesses that violate COVID-19 safety protocols over Thanksgiving weekend will face immediate fines as health officials struggle to control the spread of COVID-19.

Unlike before, businesses will have no grace period to fix the violation if they are cited Nov. 26 to Nov. 29.

Individual fines range from $250 to more than $1,000. The county issued about $600,000 in fines to businesses by early November for continuing to ignore COVID-19 restrictions, according to county officials.

“With the holiday shopping weekend, we see this as heightened risk,” said county spokesperson Betty Duong. “There’s going to be a lot of people out at the stores and the risk to the shoppers, the risk to the workers, the risk to the community, to the families that we all come home to, is so high that we have to take this enhanced measure — this enhanced approach — to make sure that everyone has a safe shopping experience.”

Duong told San José Spotlight the county has made no other changes to the health order, and businesses will face no penalties if they are following COVID-19 protocols already in place.

“We know that our businesses are struggling. We know that they are trying to recover. The pandemic is not good for business. The pandemic is not good for public health,” Duong said.

County officials stripped away the grace period and increased the number of compliance officers on the ground in response to the county’s soaring COVID-19 case rate.

In addition to checking capacity levels, compliance officers will be monitoring nonessential stores to ensure they follow the state curfew that is in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.  Restaurants can continue serving takeout and grocery stores can remain open under the curfew.

Compliance officers will have identification on them and never ask for money, Duong said.

The county recorded 439 new cases Nov. 23, which increased its total case count to 31,103.

Compliance officers from the environmental health department will mainly check if stores are too crowded.

“The primary issue we’re seeing right now is capacity limits,” said Michael Balliet, director of community and business engagement for Santa Clara County. “Business must maintain set limits inside their stores and strictly enforce face coverings and social distancing.”

Many retailers already have strict COVID-19 protocols in effect.

“It’s not going to be all that different for us because we have an occupancy level, which we didn’t change when we were allowed to because we just weren’t comfortable with bumping up from where we were at,” said Eric Johnson, owner of Recycle Bookstore in San Jose and Campbell.

Johnson said bookstore employees keep a watchful eye on people wearing masks incorrectly. He said workers will usually politely ask people to adjust their masks and only kick them out if they refuse.

“A lot of businesses don’t get on customers who wear their masks below their noses and whatnot,” he said. “But we’re always watching out for people improperly wearing their masks. And we’ve kicked quite a few people out.”

Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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