▶️ Enforcement lags as some local businesses disregard COVID rules

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By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

The City of Bend’s code enforcement department has received around 40 reports this month to the city’s mask complaint hotline.

The department has roughly 20 open investigations.

Three citations have been issued so far related to those mask complaints.

However, a handful of local restaurants, bars and coffee shops continue to allow indoor dining, which is also in violation of Gov. Kate Brown’s restrictions.

CIty of Bend Business Advocate Ben Hemson said the city doesn’t enforce those violations.

“At the city locally, our city code enforcement department is really only enforcing mask-wearing and issue fines,” Hemson said, referring to the $750 fine the city approved in November for businesses that repeatedly violate the mask ordinance.

He said he knows of one business that’s been fined, but there could be more.

So who is tracking indoor dining violations? 

Hemson said that falls on the county.

In a written statement, Eric Mone, Deschutes County’s environmental health supervisor said he understood it was a difficult time for the restaurant and service industry. 

“There are no easy answers for anybody,” he said. “Almost all of the foodservice operations we license are doing a great job of keeping the public safe, promoting frequent hand-washing, wearing face coverings, cleaning as necessary, and maintaining proper social distancing.”

He said the county’s current direction when receiving complaints is to visit them to see exactly what’s happening.

“If they are allowing indoor dining we let them know that, while our county is in this extreme risk category, based on COVID case counts, indoor dining isn’t supposed to be happening,” he said. “If the indoor dining continues, we have been issuing a warning letter from OHA that references potential civil penalties, if the indoor dining continues.  At that point, we turn the case over to Oregon OSHA for potential citation or enforcement action.  And also OLCC if alcohol is served.”

OSHA has said it’s aware of local businesses violating the indoor dining restrictions and Kevista Coffee has already been fined $8,900.

Willful disregard of the state’s mandates could lead to penalties of more than $126,000, according to Aaron Corvin, Oregon OSHA public information officer.

Hemson said he sympathizes with struggling restaurants and those frustrated with businesses skirting the rules.

“Local authorities can really only ramp up enforcement beyond what the state is telling us and our city council and county commissioners have decided not to do that,” Hemson said.

 

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