How Detroit is Enforcing COVID-19 Orders for Businesses

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The city of Detroit started a new enforcement push Wednesday as the state health department’s second-wave pandemic restrictions on businesses took effect.

Members of the city health department, led by Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair, will be making unannounced stops at businesses and able to write tickets for fines of up to $1,000 for offenses that violate the statewide orders that went into effect Wednesday.

This isn’t the start of inspections for restaurants, gyms, and others — the Detroit Health Department has temporarily shut down 10-15 businesses in the last several months, according to Fair, making them write up plans to correct their rule-breaking practices. The difference is that now health department employees, 12 of them to be exact, have the power to dole out fines themselves. Previously the Detroit Police Department had to do so.

Crain’s requested specifics on those fines from the police department but did not immediately get a reply.

Here’s how it works for businesses: Detroit health inspectors are making unannounced visits to check on compliance with COVID-19 rules — mask-wearing and capacity restrictions, for instance. Fair said businesses don’t get shut down right away. Inspectors first provide “on-site guidance” about rules, she said. Then, typically, another unannounced inspection comes. If there are still problems, the department can shut down the business.

Owners are asked to write a three- to four-page corrective action plan. The department gives feedback on it and makes suggestions, then the owner must go back to their employees with that plan. The final step is getting a signed letter of approval saying the business can reopen.

Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday during a news conference in which officials announced the city’s intentions to enforce the state’s new orders that, overall, Detroit businesses have an “outstanding safety record.” Fair echoed that sentiment in a Wednesday interview. She said there’s a “handful” of owners not following rules that need to be held accountable.

The city does have a lower percentage of tests coming back positive for the coronavirus than the rest of the region. But it’s still seeing a troubling increase in the number of people being hospitalized with COVID-19, and the city’s school district recently announced it would shift to all-remote learning, citing the rise in cases. Over the summer, several bars and restaurants, including in Greektown, were found with patrons gathering and/or COVID-19 rules not being enforced.

Recently the city shut down a gym after inspectors found masks weren’t being worn, and the gym was later tied to around 10 cases of COVID-19, Fair said.

Fair would not disclose the gym’s name, nor the names of other businesses that have been shut down. Officials have previously declined to publicly name businesses that have violated COVID-19 orders.

The city is also promoting a web page where individuals can anonymously file complaints about businesses’ violations during the outbreak. It can be done here or by calling (313) 876-4000.

The government has been taking such complaints for months. Crain’s requested details on them in late May via a Freedom of Information Act request, but was told in late June that no complaints had been recorded. Fair said Wednesday that they are now coming in, after the city on Monday mentioned the complaint portal during a news conference.

The city may publicly release some business compliance information in the future, according to the health department, but no timeline or details were provided.

*Originally published in Crain’s Detroit Business.


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