During the pandemic, the City of Anaheim’s code enforcement officers have had a very public presence throughout the city, working with local businesses to ensure they follow state and local health orders to help slow the coronavirus spread.

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So far, city officials have opened nearly 400 cases of non-compliance and issued 143 notices of noncompliance. To date, no citations have been made. 

Meanwhile, county public health officials seem to be taking a more light handed approach to enforcement. 

This week, Anaheim’s interim City Manager Greg Garcia public told city council members that the city’s code enforcement officers would focus on Covid-related health issues.

“Our code enforcement is very busy on following up on tips we get from the community in making sure our businesses are complying,”. Garcia said. “Also, businesses are calling us asking about compliance.” 

“Our code enforcement will be out there making sure we’re doing it right,” he said during the city’s virus update Tuesday at the City Council meeting.  

Numerous public health experts, including county health officials, attributed the spike in cases from June and July to the sudden reopening of restaurants beginning Memorial Day weekend. 

Leading up to Memorial Day weekend, one of the most high profile cases of non-compliance involved  Nomad’s Canteen in San Clemente, which reportedly opened its doors and began serving customers in early May, despite state and local health orders. 

At the time, County Supervisors publicly called off Health Care Agency inspectors, effectively limiting any enforcement action the agency was going to take. 

Former county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick said publicly that the county Health Care Agency has both the power and responsibility to enforce business closures during a pandemic.

She resigned following a death threat for her mandatory mask order after taking flak from residents and county supervisors for the mask mandate she enacted under her authority as the health officer.

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Health Care Agency, took over after Quick’s resignation and suddenly walked back her mask order. He also backed off the enforcement approach Quick previously said the agency can take. 

“Environmental Health Services only have authority to cite for food-related and food processing [mistakes] or violations. We do not have the authority to cite anything related to COVID-19. I just want to make that very clear,” Chau said at a July 9 news conference. 

“So the health officer can issue orders related to COVID-19 based on the state California Department of Public Health, being in alignment with the state order, but the enforcement is not our responsibility,” Chau said. “It’s not our authority to do so.” 

Chau has since said county officials will rely on the state’s regulatory strike teams, created by Gov. Gavin Newsom, to enforce coronavirus closures and guidelines

Some of the agencies include the Alcoholic Beverage Control, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Business Oversight, the Department of Consumer Affairs and the California Highway Patrol.

Meanwhile, Anaheim officials have publicly said they are being proactive in making sure its businesses are following state guidelines and health orders. 

Anaheim city spokesman Mike Lyster said the city’s code enforcement department has been visiting a host of businesses, including restaurants. 

“We have visited or noticed restaurants, indoor shopping centers, outdoor shopping centers, bowling alleys, smoking lounges and adult businesses. In one high profile case we have visited the Cambria hotel after the incident of a few weeks ago,” Lyster said in a Thursday text message. 

Lyster was referring to a massive brawl that took place at the Cambria hotel

“We have opened 378 cases since March. That has resulted in 143 notices of issues with state guidelines. Most are resolved with a notice, visit and education,” Lyster said. “Also, we have received 119 reopening plans for businesses that have submitted them to us in accordance with state guidelines.” 

Lyster said no citations have needed to be levied against any businesses. 

County health care officials, meanwhile, have largely been sending “email blasts” to restaurants, urging the establishments to follow state guidelines. 

According to HCA responses to Voice of OC questions about enforcement, the county’s fleet of health inspectors – numbering around 50 for 10,000 restaurants – found a “non-compliance” rate of roughly 40 percent at the 2,000 restaurants that were inspected since June. 

It’s unclear what action was taken with those 800 restaurants.

Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has killed 947 people out of 47,549 confirmed cases in the county, according to the OC Health Care Agency

For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 OC residents annually. 

As of Thursday, 373 people were hospitalized due to the virus, including 112 in intensive care units. 

Nearly 617,000 tests have been conducted throughout the county, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. 

State health officials are set to announce new reopening guidelines Friday, which will likely include phased-in reopenings so officials can monitor for potential outbreaks and avoid the swaths of outbreaks that happened from the Memorial Day weekend reopenings. 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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