Amid COVID Case Rise, Counties Step Up Safety Enforcement

Several local jurisdictions are offering another round of grant funding to small businesses who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, or who would like financial assistance to help purchase protective equipment for their employees.

In the past couple of weeks, the rate of positive COVID-19 tests has increased in both Maryland and Virginia, and local governments are increasing enforcement of social distancing and mask-wearing requirements.

Last week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the commonwealth would be conducting unannounced inspections at businesses, with a particular focus on restaurants in the Hampton Roads region. While southeastern Virginia has shown the sharpest rise in cases recently, the visits will likely be conducted across the state and could be at any public-facing business.

You may view Virginia’s phase three guidelines and best practices here. The state Department of Health and also the Department of Labor and Industry are empowered to fine and shutter non-compliant businesses, as they have been throughout this pandemic.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan wrote a letter to county government leaders earlier this week, urging them to take a stronger stance on safety enforcement in retail establishments, particularly bars and restaurants. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, your business can be fined or closed if it disobeys state and local workplace safety regulations.

Following Gov. Hogan’s letter, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced that a team of more than 70 inspectors will be visiting restaurants and retail outlets in the county. Businesses who are found to be non-compliant, she said, will have a “short period of time to come into compliance;” if they are found to be in violation on the second visit, the business will be fined, and following that, subject to closure.

Montgomery County has already shuttered several restaurants and other retail outlets that were found to be in particularly bad violation of the county’s health regulations. While bars and restaurants will likely receive the bulk of the local enforcement, all businesses must take great care to comply with all state and local ordinances, while following the best practices of the CDC and state health departments.

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