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:
- Revised Mandatory Risk Reduction Order - On October 5, 2020, the County Health Officer, Dr. Sara H. Cody, issued an Order Establishing Revised Mandatory Risk Reduction Measures Applicable to All Activities and Sectors to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic. Under this “Risk Reduction Order,” businesses must submit and implement Revised Social Distancing Protocols, ensure that personnel and visitors maintain social distance and wear face coverings, modify operations and physical facilities to reduce the risk of transmission, and report to the County any cases of COVID-19 amongst personnel. Dr. Cody has also issued several Mandatory Directives under the Risk Reduction Order that list further requirements for certain industries and activities.
- 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 Public Health Officer’s December 3 Regional Stay At Home Order (RSAHO), November 19 Limited Stay At Home Order (and its December 22 Supplement), Blueprint for a Safer Economy, and State Industry Guidance which sets limits on many industries and activities. The RSAHO and Blueprint rules applicable in Santa Clara County depend on the state of disease transmission and other related factors within the County. Therefore, the RSAHO Blueprint rules applicable in Santa Clara County may change when those factors change.
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, frequently asked questions, and Revised Social Distancing Protocol—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.