Editor’s note: This opinion piece submitted by District Attorney David Hollister was printed on our website last week and after the online posting, Hollister said that “both businesses are complying and their efforts are appreciated.” However, this submission still contains information that is important to share.
Plumas County has received numerous complaints of food and beverage facilities not complying with the mandate from the Governor and California Department of Public Health.
The mandate specifically prohibits onsite food or drink consumption, but does allow businesses to remain open under special, limited circumstances. If businesses choose to remain open, not following these requirements may result in enforcement action including fines, misdemeanor charges, and closure of your facility.
We understand this is a difficult time, and we thank all of our businesses for your cooperation during this public health emergency.
Special conditions to remain open
Restaurants, bars, wineries, breweries and pubs are limited to take out service or delivery sales. Onsite food or beverage consumption is prohibited.
Customers must comply with six (6) feet social distancing requirements at all times. Customers are not permitted to linger at the bar, cash register, or door of the business.
Owners are encouraged to serve just one customer at a time. You may wish to provide tape, ropes or other barriers to ensure proper spacing of customers such as at the cash register.
Remind employees of best hygiene practices including washing their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Increase frequency of cleaning and sanitizing per CDC Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection guidance of all hard surfaces, including tables and counter tops that are being utilized by employees and patrons during pickup/delivery options.
The full California Department of Public Health Guidance can be found at the following link: www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/OPA/Pages/NR20-024.aspx.
On March 16, 2020, the California Department of Public Health directed “[B]ars, wineries, breweries and pubs should be closed, except for venues that are currently authorized to provide off sale beer and wine to be consumed off premises are allowed.”
This guidance from the California Department of Public Health became an enforceable law on March 19, 2020 with Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-33-20.
The law requires bars, wineries, breweries and pubs be closed, except for venues that are currently authorized to provide off sale beer and wine to be consumed off premises.
Failure to comply with these orders is a misdemeanor under Government Code Sec. 8665 and is punishable by up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 plus penalty assessment.
Efforts to gain compliance short of criminal prosecution
During the week of March 23, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office has responded to complaints, in an effort to educate and encourage compliance, concerning individual businesses not obeying emergency orders.
Meetings have occurred in person and by phone. These efforts have included, at times, personal visits by the Sheriff and District Attorney as well as the distribution of educational material to help bring the business into compliance.
These recent efforts are in addition to outreach efforts by local agencies such as Public and Environmental Health, as well as similar efforts by state and federal agencies.
Between direct efforts from governmental agencies and reports by local, regional and national news, Plumas County businesses have been saturated with news concerning this pandemic and our responsibilities. Concurrent with efforts to encourage and educate and, understanding the importance of immediately honoring social distancing laws, Plumas County investigators have been conducting surveillance activities and investigating businesses opting not to comply with the law should the filing of criminal charges become necessary.
The importance of following the law
Plumas County law enforcement agencies, as well as Plumas County’s Public Health and Environmental Health are working exceptionally hard to educate and encourage our local businesses to follow these important public health laws.
While we do not seek to enforce these laws by using law enforcement and criminal justice resources, we will if businesses choose to ignore the rule of law and the health and safety of our community.
Right now we are dealing with a scenario where the vast majority of Plumas County businesses are following these laws. To those businesses, we thank and applaud you. We recognize the huge sacrifice you are making and are sensitive to the impact this pandemic may have on your business. By following the law, however, you are helping keep yourself, family, friends, patrons and community members safe.
Some businesses, unfortunately, are keeping their doors open and conducting business as usual during this pandemic.
When a bar, for example, has two employees and 15 patrons socializing in close proximity in violation of the orders from the Governor and State Department of Public Health, they are causing harm in three distinct ways.
First, they are putting the employees and patrons in direct risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus and spreading it to others. Second, they are gaining an unfair advantage over other businesses that are following the law. Taking advantage of the emergency closure orders in this way is unfair. Finally, the business continuing with “business as usual” is putting all in our community at risk.
The vast majority of folks in our community are undertaking great sacrifices to slow the spread of COVID-19. We do so to help ourselves, our friends, our families and our community. We also do so understanding the potential this virus may have to overwhelm our medical facilities. For a business to ignore our laws at the expense of the health and safety of our community is a thoughtless offense to us all.
The importance of compliance with social distancing directives and laws at this very moment cannot be overstated. Our public health officials have plainly stated the science behind such an approach and consequence of our failure. I will do all in my power to encourage and educate on this front. Enforcement through a criminal prosecution is the last resort.
However, should a business ignore emergency public health laws during this pandemic (putting us all risk and causing many sacrifices to go for naught) and should a business also ignore the many efforts to educate and encourage compliance — in such an instance appropriate criminal prosecution should not only be expected but demanded.