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Coronavirus: 270 sites investigated for flouting health order

Businesses subject to complaints received by Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County were sent a letter requiring information proving they are in compliance with a state health department order designed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. PUBLIC HEALTH - DAYTON & MONTGOMERY COUNTY
Businesses subject to complaints received by Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County were sent a letter requiring information proving they are in compliance with a state health department order designed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. PUBLIC HEALTH - DAYTON & MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Complaints have flooded into health officials about 270 Montgomery County business sites allegedly flouting a state order issued last week to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Health inspectors began visiting sites Monday that received complaints from employees or patrons, Montgomery County Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper said.

“If needed, law enforcement will be accompanying our employees as they do these investigations and inspections,” Cooper said. “We are at a point where we know we are going to continue to see a surge in cases. It is vital that we are complying with the director’s order regarding stay at home and what is and what is not an essential business.”

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The state health department order issued last week told people to stay at home and allowed only essential businesses to remain open only if they follow certain rules that keep employees six feet apart; provide workers with protective supplies such as soap and water; and send home sick workers.

The Dayton Daily News has filed a public records request for the complaints. The county is working with the prosecutor’s office on reviewing that request.

Gary Weaver said he lodged a complaint with the health department about a Dayton store where he works as a cashier.

“It’s called an essential business, and certainly could be,” Weaver said. “But we are not supplied with anything we need to properly prepare the store … to ensure the safety of its employees or customers.”

TAKE SURVEY: Coronavirus: Does your workplace make you feel unsafe?

The state order calls for frequent and enhanced environmental cleaning of commonly touched surfaces such as workstations, counter tops, railings, door handles and door knobs.

“One look at the store at any time of day and you’ll notice the store is not complying — not attempting to comply — with any COVID-19 guidelines,” Weaver said. “It’s shockingly bad.”

Complaints have also come in about restaurants, manufacturers and big-box stores, according to Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County.

Cooper said businesses subject to the complaints have been ordered to submit information proving they are in compliance with the state order. In letters dated Monday, the businesses were told they had until the close of business today to respond.

“The only means that we have to readily assure that we can quickly get to all of these businesses is an order to comply,” Cooper said.

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The health department asked businesses to submit:

• Justification that the business meets the definition of essential businesses and operations.

• The measures the business has implemented to meet social distancing requirements.

• Documentation that the above items have been communicated to all employees.

• Documentation that the business is following a seven-point checklist of actions the state proscribed to mitigate workplace spread of coronavirus.

Public Health has divided the county into quadrants and inspectors continued visiting the locations on Tuesday, Cooper said.

The inspectors will be carrying appropriate identification, as well wearing Public Health emergency response vests, he said.

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Cooper said he’s hopeful a majority of the locations will be found in compliance once inspectors arrive.

“In the event that there’s steadfast refusal to comply with the order, then we would go through our standard administrative process that would be engaging the county prosecutor’s office and looking for some type of injunctive relief through the court system,” he said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said shoppers at businesses also need to be responsible.

“We know that physical distancing works … it saves lives,” she said. “As you are going to these facilities to purchase items, please do your part. Keep your physical distance.”

Whaley said if you must shop, “do it as little as possible.” But if you go to a store that looks crowded, return when it’s not as busy, she said.

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Restaurants offering take-out prompted some early complaints about people congregating too close together on patios and in parking lots, said Dan Suffoletto, a county public health spokesman.

On Monday, the state relaxed some rules, allowing golf courses to reopen, certain lawn care businesses to mow and landscaping companies to resume commercial projects, but Cooper said everyone needs to continue following the order.

“We are at a critical juncture here. This is no time to take this lightly,” Cooper said. “The virus is spreading rapidly and individuals we all care about are going to be infected.”

COVID-19 checklist for businesses and employers

Business and employers are to take the following actions:

• Allow as many employees as possible to work from home by implementing policies in areas

such as teleworking and video conferencing.

• Actively encourage sick employees to stay home until they are free of fever (without the use

of medication) for at least 72 hours and symptoms have improved for at least

72 hours and at least seven days have passed since symptoms first began. Do not require a

health-care provider’s note to validate the illness or return to work of employees sick with acute respiratory illness; health-care provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.

• Ensure that sick leave policies are up to date, flexible and nonpunitive to allow sick

employees to stay home to care for themselves, children or other family members. Consider

encouraging employees to do a self-assessment each day to check if they have any COVID-19

symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath).

• Separate employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms from other

employees and send them home immediately. Restrict their access to the business until they

have recovered.

• Reinforce key messages to stay home when sick, use cough and sneeze etiquette, and practice hand hygiene to all employees, and place posters in areas where they are most likely to be seen. Provide protection supplies such as soap and water, hand sanitizer, tissues, and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.

• Frequently perform enhanced environmental cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, such as workstations, counter tops, railings, door handles and door knobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label. Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.

• Be prepared to change business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some operations).

Source: Ohio Department of Health, March 22 director’s order

Do you believe your workplace, a family member's or one where you shop is not complying with Ohio's order? Fill out our online survey at DaytonDailyNews.com. We will be including some of your responses in a story Sunday.