Santa Clara County residents are encouraged to report businesses that do not comply with local public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo via Baker County Tourism/Flickr)

Santa Clara County officials reminded residents and businesses Wednesday of the importance of complying with local health guidance to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus as cases have risen countywide in recent days.

Santa Clara County established the Business Compliance Unit in August to monitor businesses for their compliance with local pandemic safety guidelines.

According to Beatrice Santiago, an environmental health program manager with the county and the head of the compliance unit, county officials have sought to educate business owners about how to stay compliant rather than strictly dole out punishments.

“From the get-go, we knew the importance of an education-first approach,” Santiago said during a Wednesday morning briefing on the Compliance Unit. “It wasn’t just about enforcement, it was about outreach and compliance as well.”

Businesses have access to online resources like testing and health order information in multiple languages, Santiago said, and can contact the Compliance Unit directly through its business engagement team.

Residents can also identify businesses that have submitted a social distancing protocol to the county by an orange checkmark in their window.

Business compliance is one of the county’s most important tools to remind residents of the virus’ threat, according to Santiago, and helps give people peace-of-mind to visit local businesses that may be struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“When a business operates in compliance, it lets the community know that they take their obligation seriously,” she said. “That they are making every effort to slow the spread of COVID.

“The business has an obligation to not just create a safe environment for the customers coming into the business but also an obligation to its workers, the community in general. Every action that the business takes will help prevent the spread of COVID,” Santiago said.

Residents who see non-compliant businesses are encouraged to visit to report the potential violation to the county. Business owners can also ensure they are not the subject of a violation by staying in contact with the Compliance Unit and understanding the latest local health order as the pandemic continues.

As of Monday, the county had issued 79 violation notices and some $600,000 in fines to businesses for failing to comply with the county’s health order.

“When we have repeat offenders, when we have willful violation, when we have businesses that are just simply refusing to comply and putting our community at risk, we take it very seriously,” Santiago said. “That’s when we must implement enforcement action.”

The county offers a grace period of up to 72 hours for businesses to fix the subject of a violation complaint. Fines for businesses that do not resolve the issue range from $250 to $5,000.