Gephardt: Businesses Feel Confusion With COVID-19 Safety Requirements
May 11, 2020, 10:20 PM | Updated: Sep 5, 2022, 11:34 pm
LAYTON, Utah — As businesses reopen, one thing is clear—there’s a lot of confusion over the new COVID-19 safety requirements that have to be followed.
“When it comes to hair and nails, those are extremely important things for folks. I mean, it’s just the way you feel about yourself,” said Sam Reese, whose wife Elvera owns the salon.
Despite being full with appointments, Elvera said her priority is to keep customers and workers safe. That includes taking magazines out of the waiting area, making sure chairs are at least 6 feet apart, and that all workers are wearing face masks.
“We just wipe everything down really, really well,” said Elvera.
The Reeses said they’re trying to follow the state and local guidelines for the Orange, or Moderate Risk category issued by the state’s COVID-19 Task Force. But they said getting clear answers on what they’re required to do in order to operate has been tough.
“We talked to everyone we could, and we kept getting conflicting information as to what we should do,” said Sam.
Sam said there’s information missing, both from the Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan and the Davis County Health Department. Things like the temperature threshold for employees before they must be sent home, and if customers should wear masks while getting a haircut.
“When it comes to this, it’s so important,” said Sam. “We want specifics.”
Rules Change… Fast
When the KSL Investigators reached out to Davis County Health Department about the Reeses’ frustration, Director of Health Brian Hatch said they’re doing their best to answer the wave of questions from businesses.
“As guidelines come, there’s a lot of questions that are still trying to be answered,” said Hatch.
When the Governor’s office changed the risk level from “high/red” to “moderate/orange,” one frustration Sam and Elvera expressed was they were given just four days from the announcement to the day they were allowed to reopen. Then last week, the state amended those recommendations to clarify certain industry expectations. Timing and direction on these large changes is also a point of frustration for Hatch.
“If there was a frustration that I would characterize, it’s just that we don’t have enough time to facilitate information and get it out to the right people in a timely manner,” said Hatch. “Ideally, we’d have a couple of weeks of heads up, and then we could get information.”
Hatch said another disadvantage is his office is now in charge of enforcing the Davis County Public Health & Directive Order, which mirrors the governor’s executive order from April 29. That means his office is helping businesses he does not regulate comply with the new guidelines.
“We don’t regulate, like salons for instance,” said Hatch, “and so we have no idea who to contact to get information out, so we rely on social media, our website, etc.”
Citation or Education?
While some health departments are also making their own rules in addition to those issued by the governor, Hatch said they’ve opted to keep it simple and in line with the state. They’re also not issuing citations for businesses that break the rules, choosing to educate rather than discipline at this point.
This is similar to Utah County, which did not issue any disciplinary action to two businesses that reportedly blatantly ignored guidelines, which resulted in dozens of employees contracting COVID-19.
KSL Investigators reached out to all 13 health departments in Utah to find out what would happen if a business doesn’t follow the rules. Ten departments responded, and all said the same thing: education over enforcement.
Southeast Utah Health Department said in an email it “always strives to first educate about the intent of rules and regulations and will continue that philosophy. If a business is unwilling to become compliant, they will be subject to citation or closure.”
The sentiment was echoed by most departments, saying no disciplinary action would be used unless the business is a repeat violator.
When it comes to inspections, most health departments said they will prioritize complaints from the public for inspection, rather than visiting every business for a routine inspection. Salt Lake County Health Department is taking a unique approach to better educate businesses and assist them with compliance. County employees from other departments are being retrained to visit businesses as part of the Health Ambassadors program.
“We’re asking them to visit licensed establishments that are under the purview of the health department with the sole intention to provide that information,” said Dorothy Adams with the Salt Lake County Health Department.
Essentially, ambassadors are what Adams calls a personal touch to providing the state and local guidelines.
“We’re having that eyes in the field,” she said.
But what those eyes can do is limited. Ambassadors are not allowed to order a business to comply, cannot do inspections, and cannot go back into a restaurant’s kitchen. They cannot answer specific questions a business might have about compliance, and instead must report those questions back to a health department inspector for follow-up.
“We’re not going in and closing places down,” said Adams. “We’re going in and providing education, making sure they know what that looks like.”
The lack of clarity has restaurant owner Matt Lake filled with questions and concerns about enforcing some of the guidelines on customers.
“We’re not medical workers,” said Lake.
One regulation for restaurants includes “Avoid entering if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above, cough, trouble breathing, sore throat, muscle aches and pains, sudden changes in smell or taste, or feel generally unwell.”
Lake said this makes him feel like he’s a health care enforcer.
“I confront you as a guest, and you say, ‘well I just have allergies.’ But I don’t know that. I don’t know you. I have to ask you to leave,” said Lake. “That’s not hospitality. It’s not what we do.”
While Lake is concerned about lack of clarity in regulations, he said he’s also concerned about customers refusing to take those regulations seriously, putting him, his employees, and other customers at risk. He’s decided to keep Alamexo closed to dine-in customers for that reason.
Utah Leads Together 2.0 and local health department orders also have guidelines for the general public when visiting these businesses. You can review them here to keep your family safe, as well as the employees of businesses you choose to support.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at firstname.lastname@example.org or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.