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Restaurant spurs uproar and risks being closed down for defying virus orders

A map shows Placerville, Calif., where a restaurant's defiance of virus orders has stirred controversy.
In Placerville, Calif., a restaurant says “oxygen deprivation” masks and “dirty germ spreader” gloves are not used there.

A Northern California restaurant has caused an uproar by dismissing county orders to practice COVID-19 safety protocols.

The sign in front of the Apple Bistro in Placerville warns that social distancing is not practiced and that “oxygen deprivation” masks and “dirty germ spreader” gloves are not worn. The policy comes with a clear message: “This may not be for you.”

The El Dorado County restaurant’s decision has stirred debate among longtime customers — both those who defend the business and others who have denounced their allegiance — on the restaurant’s Yelp page, which now includes an “unusual activity alert” label as the page has been flooded by posts with the recent news. Some claimed that they were denied service for wearing a mask, an allegation that the restaurant has denied.

“We don’t discriminate against anybody with masks. We give people a choice,” a female employee who did not identify herself said over the phone before hanging up. The restaurant did not respond to further inquiry via email, and attempts to reconnect by phone were met with a full voicemail inbox.

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“No one has ever been asked to leave for wearing a mask, ever,” the restaurant states on Facebook. “We will not have vulgar posts, threats, or lies about us on our page attempting to ‘Cancel’ us. We furthermore will not allow people that are acting this way to continue to post on our page.”

The county has received upward of 50 complaints about the restaurant since July 16, communications director Carla Hass said Tuesday.

The county’s environmental management team visited the restaurant’s owner and partner Monday to ensure that they understood the state’s guidelines and to warn that if an additional complaint was received and verified, the county would suspend their permit, meaning they’d have to close their doors.

The violation the team was investigating was whether employees were wearing masks, Hass said. If physical distancing and proper signage are not maintained, the county will alert the restaurant but will not suspend its permit.

“We permit the establishment — we don’t police the patrons,” Hass said.

El Dorado County has been one of the least affected counties in the state during the pandemic and is not on the state’s watchlist, which includes counties that have had surges in cases or hospitalizations, or changes in their so-called positivity rate — the percentage of people testing positive for the virus out of all those who have been tested. But El Dorado has not been completely spared. The county of nearly 193,000 reported its first death on Monday in addition to 49 new cases, for a total of 443 infections.

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The county’s guidelines for businesses cite the statewide face-covering mandate, which doesn’t apply to customers while they’re eating or drinking, and physical distancing practices. The county instructs all businesses to include signage that informs customers to:

  • Practice physical distancing, keeping six feet away from others.
  • Avoid the business if they have a cough or fever.
  • Sneeze or cough into an elbow or tissue and use hand sanitizer.
  • Wear a face covering.

During an emergency Board of Supervisors meeting two weeks ago, El Dorado County officials gave power to licensing authorities to suspend the health permits of businesses that did not adhere to state guidance.

“I don’t want to drive them out of business,” Supervisor John Hidahl said. “I don’t want to over-regulate, but I do want to do as much as we can to help them get in the right posture [and] operating processes.”

In El Dorado County, those wishing to complain about a business can call or email with details including the name of the business and nature of the complaint, or they can fill out a non-compliance reporting form on the county’s site.

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San Diego County announces 17 more COVID-19 deaths, 500 hospitalizations on Thursday as gym owners refuse new shutdown orders.

“Due to the volume of non-compliance reports received, we are unable to provide individual updates on the status of reports,” a note at the end of the form reads.

Several counties throughout the state have grappled with how to enforce and discipline restaurants and businesses that do not adhere to its mandate. In Los Angeles County, for example, the Board of Supervisors recently directed staff to develop an enforcement plan to fine or revoke permits of businesses that violated the county’s health order.

Prior to the state’s mandate to cease indoor operations at eateries and bars, L.A. County inspectors found that from June 27 to 28, 49% of bars and 33% of restaurants were not adhering to physical distancing protocols indoors, and 54% of bars and 44% of restaurants were not enforcing face mask and face shield requirements.


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