San Mateo County will begin warning and citing businesses that fail to follow local health guidelines intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo via Flickr)

Starting this Monday, San Mateo County will launch a COVID-19 compliance unit that will warn and cite businesses that fail to follow the county’s pandemic-related health order.

During a media briefing on Wednesday, County Manager Mike Callagy said that people will be able to call 211 or go online to report businesses that have not been compliant.

Callagy said the compliance unit will work with businesses to ensure that they understand what is required of them.

Under the county’s health order, businesses must implement social distancing protocols, require face coverings, and provide hand sanitizer or soap and water. Businesses must also prepare and distribute a health and safety plan to personnel.

The full health order can be found at https://www.smchealth.org/health-officer-updates/order-no-c19-11-health-officer-county-san-mateo-social-distancing-guidelines.

“It’s not our intention to go out and cite businesses,” Callagy said Wednesday. “We want to go out and work with businesses to make sure that they are compliant and providing a safe and healthy environment for individuals who come to their business.”

The compliance unit will first issue a warning to non-compliant businesses. If the business ignores the warning, Callagy said the unit would move to civil penalties and then criminal prosecution if necessary.

Under the county’s urgency ordinance — approved by the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 4 — businesses can be fined between $250 and $3,000 per violation, depending on the gravity of the violation, prior warnings, efforts to comply or intent to profit.

Callagy said he was not aware of any businesses that had been cited. However, he had heard reports of businesses flouting regulations, such as allowing people to enter without masks.

The county has a list of those businesses and plans to contact them when the unit is operational on Monday.

“It’s just irresponsible to act in that manner,” Callagy said. “So many businesses out there are acting appropriately and making sure people are healthy, and making sure that they are part of the process of us moving forward, and not back.”

San Mateo County is currently in the red (substantial risk) tier of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Advancing to the orange (moderate risk) tier will ease restrictions and allow more businesses to reopen. In order to move toward the orange tier, Callagy said the county needs businesses to comply.

For the week ending Oct. 3, San Mateo County met some criteria for the orange tier, with a test positivity of 2.5 percent and a 4.8 percent health equity metric, which measures test positivity for places in the lowest quartile of the state’s Healthy Places Index.

However, the county’s adjusted case rate of 4.7 per 100,000 is up from 4.3 the previous week, and exceeds the 3.9 threshold for the orange tier.