Individuals and businesses throughout Santa Clara County are responsible for complying with several public health orders designed to keep our community safe in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. If these orders conflict with one another, the most restrictive order or provision must be followed. The applicable orders may change over time, but include the following:
- County Health Officer’s May 18, 2021 Order - On May 18, 2021, the County Health Officer, Dr. Sara H. Cody, issued an Order Establishing Focused Safety Measures to Protect the Community from COVID-19. Dr. Cody also issued two new Mandatory Directives on May 18, 2021: the Mandatory Directive on Use of Face Coverings, and the Mandatory Directive for Unvaccinated Personnel. Under the May 18th Order and the Mandatory Directives, businesses must:
- determine the vaccination status of their employees (and onsite contractors and volunteers);
- ensure that their personnel, customers, and other persons at their facilities comply with the Mandatory Directive on Face Coverings;
- comply with the requirements for their personnel who are not fully vaccinated as set forth in the Mandatory Directive for Unvaccinated Personnel;
- continue to promptly report COVID-19 cases amongst their personnel to the Public Health Department; and
- for programs serving youth (such as a school, sports program, or other youth program), continue to promptly report COVID-19 cases amongst their personnel and program participants as required by the Mandatory Directive on Case Reporting by K-12 Schools, Youth Athletic Programs, and Other Youth Programs.
- Ascertainment of Vaccination Status of Personnel - The May 18th Order requires businesses to make the initial determination of their personnel’s vaccination status by June 1, 2021. If a business fails to ascertain its personnel’s vaccination status as required by the May 18th Order, including the continuing requirement to update the vaccination status of personnel who are not fully vaccinated, the business would be subject to enforcement action as described below, and may be required to pay fines up to $5,000 per violation per day.
- Testing Order - On September 16, 2020, the County Health Officer also issued a Testing Order that requires certain healthcare facilities to provide certain individuals with COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing and to post notices informing visitors of their rights to be tested.
- State Orders and Industry Guidance - Individuals and businesses throughout the County must also comply with the State Blueprint for a Safer Economy; any applicable State Industry Guidance which sets limits on many industries and activities; and any other applicable State requirements, such as the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standard, the State Guidance on the Use of Face Coverings, the State Guidance on Outdoor and Indoor Youth and Recreational Adult Sports, and the State Guidance for Gatherings.
The County believes that one of the most important thing individuals and businesses can do to protect themselves and the entire County community is to learn about and comply with the public health orders. We are all safer when each of us contributes our part to the community’s health.
When the County learns of non-urgent complaints about businesses that have not violated the orders before, the County’s first response is generally to learn about the situation and try to educate the business on how to comply. This may include the issuance of a warning or other appropriate action, but not in every instance. If the business has violated the orders before, refuses to comply once educated, was found to be intentionally violating the orders, or has committed a violation that poses an imminent risk to public health, the County may choose not to issue a warning. It has been the County’s experience that most businesses, once educated about the rules, have complied.
Enforcement of Orders
When businesses do not comply with the order, the County can take several kinds of action to enforce the orders. The County employs several enforcement tools, including warnings and fines (under Urgency Ordinance NS-9.291, enacted August 11, 2020), permit suspension or revocation (in a variety of industries where the County issues permits), and even criminal prosecution (because a health order violation is a misdemeanor). A variety of factors—including the type of violation, the severity of the violation, the immediacy of the public health risk posed by the violation, and whether the business has previously violated the health orders—informs the County’s choice of enforcement tool.
The County’s most frequently used enforcement tool is to issue fines, which Enforcement Officers assess through a document called a Notice of Violation. Consistent with the County’s overall focus on outreach, education, and voluntary compliance, in appropriate cases the Notice of Violation offers a specified “grace period” of up to 72 hours. When a Notice of Violation includes a grace period, a business can avoid the fines altogether if it complies with the grace period and submits a Compliance Statement documenting its compliance. (Businesses can submit compliance statements at www.sccCOVIDconcerns.org.) But if a business does not comply within the grace period—or if the Notice of Violation does not offer a grace period—fines may accrue from the date and time the Enforcement Officer issues the Notice of Violation.
Under the Urgency Ordinance, fines may double each day until they reach the daily maximum of $5,000, which then accrue anew every day until the violation is cured. The County can collect fines through a variety of systems, including by directly billing the business and having the Clerk-Recorder record the fine as a lien on the deed of the property where the violation occurred. This means that property owners, if different from the business owner, may be required to pay those fines.
In addition to the County enforcing both local and State Orders, the State also enforces the State Orders which may include phone calls, email, mail and site visits. The State only enforces the provisions that are in the State’s Orders, not the County’s Orders. These State agencies may include The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of Industrial Relations and others. The State may also take action on licenses or permits that they issue, such as license suspension.
The County prefers education over enforcement when possible and is eager to help businesses learn about and voluntarily comply with their obligations under the health orders. If a business’s question is not answered by the extensive information available on the County’s COVID-19 website—you can find more information at business guidance and frequently asked questions—the business can contact the County’s COVID-19 Business Call Center at (408) 961-5500 or by submitting a webform.
Anyone can submit a concern about a violation of any of the public health orders by visiting our website at www.SCCCovidConcerns.org and completing the online form, or by contacting the Business Call Center at (408) 961-5500 which may assist you with entering your concern in the online form with multilingual translation assistance available.
Questions About Notices of Violation or Compliance Agreements?
If you have a concern about a notice of violation you have received, or would like to discuss entering into a compliance agreement to reduce your fines in exchange for a commitment to comply with all public health orders in the future, please send an email to [email protected] or call 408-299-9043.
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