By Angela Hart, Kaiser Health News
Nearly six months since Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to target businesses that are flagrantly violating public health orders to control the spread of COVID-19, California regulators have issued just 424 citations and suspended two business licenses as of Monday, according to data from 10 state regulatory and law enforcement agencies.
Instead of strictly penalizing businesses for violations, the Democratic governor and businessman with a portfolio of wineries, bars and restaurants under the brand name PlumpJack, has relied on educating owners about infectious disease mandates. State agencies have contacted establishments primarily by email, sending them 1.3 million messages since July 1 to urge them to comply with state and local public health rules.
Enforcement at bars and restaurants where alcohol is served, identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as among the highest-risk environments for COVID transmission, has been limited, data shows. The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which can issue criminal misdemeanor citations, fine businesses and revoke liquor licenses, has issued just 45 citations against bars and 119 against restaurants since July. No fines have been issued or licenses revoked for the 94,000 businesses it regulates.
By comparison, the state of New York — with half the population of California and far fewer eating and drinking establishments — has issued 1,867 fines against bars and restaurants and temporarily suspended 279 business liquor licenses from June 18 to Dec. 8.
“The reality is it’s not enough to send an email and say ‘Wear a mask,’” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco. “We see workplace violations that we know are major sources of transmission. We have to be willing to enforce or there’s no point in doing these things.”
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