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Coronavirus: Potential fines coming for violators of public health orders in Napa County

Coronavirus: Potential fines coming for violators of public
health orders in Napa County 1

Mask up, or risk being fined in wine country.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized citations from $25 to $500 for individuals and $200 to $5,000 for businesses that receive repeated complaints for violations of state and local health orders.

But supervisors stressed the priority of education over enforcement. In the steps laid out in the policy, it takes multiple complaints to receive a written warning, and more violations after that before a potential penalty.

After an initial complaint, a code enforcement employee will contact the business in violation with steps to remedy the situation. If complaints continue to file into the county database, the county should follow up in person with a written warning. If more follow, the next step is a visit from the sheriff’s office. If it hasn’t been resolved within two days after that, a citation can be levied, and, like a traffic ticket, would be due within 30 days.

The guidelines were less clear for enforcement actions agains individuals, though the order defined any violation of a public health order as a public nuisance, enforceable by misdemeanor citations. It authorizes enforcement officers — which includes police and code enforcement officers, as well as other officials designated by the city and county — to issue citations to “any person who violates a Public Health Order.”

While a two-day abatement period is suggested, it does allow for on-the-spot enforcement if an officer deems it necessary.

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The Napa County Code Compliance Division will lead the enforcement efforts.

A procedural move to modify the county code allowed the officials to issue the fines as administrative citations, rather than going through the lengthy criminal process. Once a citation is issued, a person will have 30 days to appeal or pay the fine.

Jon Crawford, the undersheriff for Napa County directing the department’s COVID-19 response, said that would mean his department would only play a support role. Although the order also makes any violation of the health order a public nuisance misdemeanor, Crawford dismissed it as “purely administrative.”

Over the July Fourth holiday weekend, between July 2-5, there were 67 COVID-19 complaints across the county, mostly coming within the city limits of Napa (41). The Sheriff’s Department, which controls enforcement in unincorporated area of the county, gave three in-person warnings and made another nine follow-up phone calls.

The new order came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a broad rollback of reopenings statewide — including the closure of all bars, breweries and wineries — and a little over a week after the county first appeared on the state monitoring list. Because it had been on the list for at least three days prior to Newsom’s order, gyms, hair and nail salons, and other services that had been open since mid-June were also required to close.

For much of the pandemic, Napa has escaped largely unscathed, even more so than the surrounding Bay Area. It hadn’t reported 10 cases in a single day until the first week of June, and there were no patients hospitalized with the virus as recently as June 13. Still, only four of the county’s 138,000 residents have died from the virus.

But now, cases and hospitalizations are rising in the county, particularly “among the Latino population within crowded household settings, and disproportionate impact on agricultural workers,” according to the state health department. There are now nine Napa residents hospitalized with the virus and the county has reporting an average of 12 new cases per day over the past week, about the same per-capita rate as the state of Washington — 8.7 per 100,000 residents per day.

For at least the next three weeks, Napa will be mostly closed. Restaurants can still serve food outdoors and essential businesses remain open. Any that aren’t in compliance with the public health order now face an increased chance of being penalized.

The public can report violations by emailing COVID19Compliance@countyofnapa.org.

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