In early July, Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed heightened interest in enforcement of businesses regarding health and safety protocols, proposing “strike teams” and pointing consumers to tip lines to report coronavirus improprieties. The concept was to transition to an enforcement system with “teeth” after many months of reliance on mask- and social distancing-shaming on platforms like Nextdoor.

That new framework crystallized this week when the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an emergency ordinance allowing Marin’s county, city and town government workers to cite violators, rather than relying solely on police officers and Marin County Sheriff’s deputies to enforce the regulations. County officials said that “a task force including Community Development Agency Code Enforcement, Environmental Health Services, the Sheriff’s Office and County Counsel is collaborating with city and town personnel to focus on business violations throughout the county.”

County officials said the ordinance, which is effective immediately, will focus on education first, seeking to urge customers and businesses to comply for their own safety and for that of those around them. But it also calls for fines for repeat violations or refusal to comply, with a minimum fine that could go up to $500. A business that breaks the rules can be fined up to $10,000, with a minimum of $250. A government worker witnessing a violation can issue a citation on the spot or give the violator a 72-hour notice to comply, county officials said.

“The majority of Marin residents and businesses are complying with our public health orders during this pandemic, but there’s been an increasing need for stronger enforcement,” Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said in a written statement. “Ending this health emergency will take a sustained team effort, and our goal with this action is to hold people accountable for actions that jeopardize public health.”

The county set up an email address, sipviolation@marincounty.org, for people to report businesses breaking the rules. About 60 complaints a day are reported to the email address, which launched July 10, officials said. Not surprisingly, complaints have centered the requirement to wear masks in public, maintain social distance and not gather in large groups. In addition, businesses can only serve patrons outside – same for barbershops and hair salons.

“Violations of public health orders not only create a serious and immediate risk to public health and safety, they also jeopardize social and economic welfare by increasing the potential for renewed curtailment of business operations, school closures and activity restriction,” the county said in its staff report.

The enforcement plan comes amid Marin’s continued placement on the statewide COVID-19 watch list, a group of more than 30 counties whose metrics, including having more than 100 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and/or hospitalizations and surge capacity, exceed the state’s limits. Marin’s positive case rate per 100,000 residents is currently double the limit, Willis said.

Counties have a lot at stake for getting enforcement right, noted the San Francisco Chronicle, as Newsom has threatened to withhold $2.5 billion in financial relief from local governments in the upcoming state budget if they do not follow the guidelines that he says are necessary to tamp down the spike in coronavirus cases.

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