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Yolo County businesses face $10,000 fines for ignoring coronavirus safety rules

Customers wear masks in a coffeehouse in Davis, Calif., in April.
Barbara Meier, right, wears a face mask as picks up her drink order from Philz Coffee in Davis, Calif., on April 27. Yolo County, where Davis is located, requires people to wear face masks in public.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Not complying with public health and safety measures just got costly in Yolo County.

After seeing a more than 200% spike in coronavirus cases in the past month, Yolo County officials passed an ordinance allowing code officers to fine businesses up to $10,000 for not complying with state and county health orders, including not wearing a mask.

The ordinance, which went into effect Tuesday, is the first enforcement pledge by a Northern California county. Several Southern California cities, including West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, have imposed similar — albeit less expensive — fines in recent weeks.

“The recent rapid spike in the numbers of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 necessitates an increase in enforcement,” Gary Sandy, chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors, said of Tuesday’s 5-0 vote. “These efforts will primarily focus on those that fail to take appropriate measures to protect the public.”

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Fines can range from $250 to $10,000 for businesses, depending on the “gravity of public health risk posed by the violation,” according to county officials. Individuals can be fined anywhere from $25 to $500.

Misdemeanors would be issued by city police departments or the Sheriff’s Department, and business closures would be handled by county counsel or the county’s local health officer, county officials said.

When it comes to violations that reach $10,000, which county counsel Phil Pogledich said may appear “extreme,” the penalties would be based on multiple factors, including whether the business had prior violations, the severity of the violation and whether owners made good faith efforts to comply with orders after receiving a warning.

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Pogledich said an example of an extreme violation could be a bar hosting a large private party. Bars have been ordered closed in Yolo County.

During Tuesday’s video conference meeting, Pogledich said that although many businesses and organizations have complied with the county’s public health orders, which have allowed more sectors to reopen, there is a small number that he referred to as “the tough 10%” that have refused to follow safety measures.

Jenny Tan, the county’s public information officer, said Yolo County will issue warnings to businesses and will reserve fines for those that do not comply “after multiple and multiple attempts.”

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The businesses “that have not been complying have really been few and far between,” Tan said Thursday. “We don’t want to penalize businesses that are struggling. We understand that they’re also going through a really hard time right now financially ... so that’s why we always try education first.”

The county is working with the cities of Davis, West Sacramento, Winters and Woodland to enforce the new ordinance.

Yolo County recently exceeded the state’s threshold of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 residents within a two-week period, landing it on the state’s watch list. The county, which has less than 230,000 residents, had 760 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths as of Thursday morning, county records show.

Officials said the initial jump in coronavirus cases within the past month came from family gatherings but have since been traced back to workplaces, educational businesses, social gatherings and religious services.

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“We’re talking about the public’s health and safety, and that also means that we need to be making sure that businesses that have permits with us or who have a business in our county are also trying to protect the public’s health and safety,” Tan said.


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