For months now, most businesses have been adhering to health measures and restrictions brought on by the pandemic, but there has never been full-blown enforcement of the rules in Santa Clara County, until now.
Today the county’s public health department held a press conference to announce that the times of letting things slide are over.
County officials announced that from Thanksgiving Day until Sunday there will be no grace period for businesses that are not following coronavirus guidelines.
Compliance officers with Santa Clara County will have a presence at large shopping hotspots across the South Bay and will be looking for things like people not wearing masks, lack of social distancing, overcapacity, and not posting capacity limits.
Up until Thursday, the county had been waiving fines for businesses that would quickly correct their issues.
The reason for the clampdown is obvious. Santa Clara County is trying to stop a growing surge of COVID-19 cases. The county recently set a new record for coronavirus cases in one day with 532.
"We’ve had the highest hospitalization rates we've ever had since March. Our hospitalization rates have increased by 88 percent in the last week. These are alarming numbers," Santa Clara County Public Health Department Spokeswoman Betty Duong told KTVU.
Officials are trying to avoid what Thanksgiving Day has been known for the past few years and that is large crowds of shoppers packing stores looking for holiday sales.
"We are asking businesses to be absolutely diligent. They need to be following the capacity limitations. We have a whole crew of folks who go out on-site for inspections, and where necessary, issue fines," said Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams.
Fines will start at $250 and can rise up to the thousands.
In a press release, Michael Balliet, Director of Community and Business Engagement for the County of Santa Clara said “the primary issue we’re seeing right now is capacity limits. Businesses must maintain set limits inside their stores and strictly enforce face covering and social distancing. Additionally, customers should be looking for the orange checkmark sign in front to ensure a proper business plan has been approved.”
Business owners remain frustrated as they try to enforce the new rules on their own customers while trying to still make them feel welcome.
“We have a maximum capacity right now of 13, and we're trying to adhere to that. We need people to come down and shop at small businesses or you won't have small businesses anymore. So yeah, we are concerned. If we get shut down again we're in trouble," Kathy Karnes, owner of the store Whatnots & Doodads told KPIX.
The county says that its compliance officers will be wearing ID badges that will be visible as they make their patrols. It remains to be seen whether the extra crackdowns will extend further into the Christmas season.