San Mateo County Creates Team to Handle COVID Restriction Violations

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Like many counties, San Mateo County has been struggling to move through California’s four-tier reopening system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s only been in the second, or red tier, allowing activities like limited indoor dining for less than a month. But county officials hope that by stopping violations early, more businesses will be able to open as the infection rate drops.

Restaurant owner Raymond Huang said that outdoor seating gives him just enough business to barely pay the bills.

“Now we are okay and surviving, at least,” said Huang, who owns Best of Burma.

But with winter coming, he said the restaurant may not survive if the county doesn’t move to the orange tier before it gets cold.

If the county makes the orange tier, that would allow him to seat half of his indoor tables, but he knows the key to moving forward is compliance with the current health restrictions.

Supervisor David Canepa said most businesses are complying, but a few are not and they could cause spikes in cases -- forcing the county to roll back reopenings, entering a more restrictive tier.

"We don’t want to take a step back to purple,” Canepa said.

So, on Monday morning San Mateo County will start taking COVID violation reports from the public, both through 211 calls and on the county’s main web page.

“We believe it’s the tool to modify and change behavior, so that’s why we’re moving forward with the team,” Canepa said.

Eight people from a variety of agencies will investigate and enforce the rules, which could include fines up to $3,000, and even a misdemeanor criminal prosecution for habitual offenders.

Huang said he welcomes the reporting, especially if it will help the county move forward safely through the pandemic.

“I have no issue,” he said. “It’s okay.”

Canepa said the reporting system will streamline all of the complaints from the county’s 20 cities into one database where that eight-person team can track them more effectively.

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