- California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that the state has created “strike teams” to crack down on businesses that are not adhering to COVID-19 safety measures, with special focus on bars and restaurants. The strike teams will be made up representatives from 10 state regulatory agencies and will work in tandem with county enforcement authorities, according to the Associated Press.
- On Monday, the teams, which include 200 inspectors, said they issued 52 citations as most business owners complied with directives, which were sent to 483,000 businesses last week, according to The Desert Sun. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control inspectors made 6,000 in-person visits to bars and restaurants over the holiday weekend as well.
- Over the weekend, the state's strike teams ordered around 12 Santa Clara County restaurants to close because they didn't have permission from the state to reopen. But the Santa Clara Mayor criticized the process, which included armed officers with Alcoholic Beverage Control inspecting the restaurants.
These steps come as California experiences an uptick in cases in recent weeks — 27,000 new cases as of July 6 — after being an early leader in case reduction. This surge has also caused Newsom to suspend dine-in service in 19 counties, according to Restaurant Business.This new task force is looking closely at establishments in areas where cases have spiked and businesses that have received repeated complaints over disregard for COVID-19 safety procedures. Violations include large gatherings and noncompliance with the state’s mask mandate, according to Restaurant Business. Newsom said that if restaurants don't comply with mandated best practices, the state could revoke restaurant licenses or withhold funding from jurisdictions that don't police safety protocol violations.
But California isn't alone in stepping up enforcement efforts. Chicago said last week that it will slap a $10,000 fine on establishments that breach safety measures. Establishments will also be shut down if failure to comply with measures — including mandating employees and guests to wear face masks, requiring guests to remain seated and ending drink service by 11 p.m. — is evident, Restaurant Business reports.
The Illinois Restaurant Association is also running an awareness campaign about wearing masks and social distancing. Illinois is likely trying to avoid the same rise in cases California is experiencing by implementing tougher punishments for violators.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has also warned of citations after his state has experienced a rise in cases. Florida, which has dominated recent headlines with coronavirus surges as it surpasses 200,000 cases, is also tamping down noncompliance. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation suspended an alcohol license at an Orlando bar near the University of Central Florida after 13 employees and nearly 30 customers tested positive for COVID-19. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city has closed five restaurants for such violations, citing restaurants not adhering to safety protocols as one reason for the state's surge.
Mayor Suarez isn’t alone in placing the blame on restaurants for the recent trends. As reported by the The Wall Street Journal, JPMorgan Chase analysis shows that credit card spending in restaurants tends to predict new coronavirus cases about three weeks later.
Still, crackdowns are not new to this crisis. In early May, a Colorado restaurant went viral on social media for having a packed dining room during Mother’s Day weekend. The state health department ordered the restaurant to shut down for at least 30 days. The owners have since sued the state, reflecting a delicate balance of restaurants trying to stay in business and municipalities trying to keep the public safe. Like many states that have reopened, Colorado’s cases are on the rise.