California struggles with how to enforce coronavirus orders

By ELLIOT SPAGAT and DON THOMPSON | The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO  — Health inspectors fanned out to 29 businesses across San Diego County, threatening criminal prosecution and $1,000 fines for ignoring orders to avoid indoor activity during the coronavirus pandemic. Not just that, the businesses’ names appeared on the county’s website — unwelcome publicity as officials push companies to comply with tightening restrictions.

The actions Monday marked another turn in a monthslong tug-of-war among officials in California over whether to emphasize enforcement or persuasion as infection rates soar and the holidays arrive along with colder weather and the flu season.

Instructors at The Yoga Box were startled when health inspectors arrived simultaneously at four studios to deliver scolding letters from Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County’s public health officer.

Owner Amanda Burns said she complied with two previous state-ordered shutdowns but stayed open Monday after a third order took effect, saying it “was just a matter of trying to survive.”

“They’re coming at us harder,” said Burns, who closed her studios after getting cease-and-desist letters on indoor classes because holding them outside is impractical with shorter daylight hours and colder weather.

San Diego officials said posting the letters online is an effort to be transparent and not meant to shame business owners. The county previously disclosed violators’ names only upon request.

A person walks past Danny’s Palm Bar and Grill after the restaurant received a cease-and-desist order for not complying with San Diego County regulations to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, in Coronado, Calif. Health inspectors fanned out to 29 businesses across the county with threats of criminal prosecution and $1,000 fines for flouting orders to avoid indoor activity. The county posted stern warning letters to each business on its website, adding unwelcome publicity to its latest push for more compliance. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) 

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County spokesman Michael Workman said it seemed more efficient to post them all online. “They are public record,” he said.

Twenty-six cease-and-desist letters were posted Tuesday — four issued that day and the others dating back to July 31.

The approach can have benefits and drawbacks, said Don Moore, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business who studies behavioral decision-making.

Consumers may avoid businesses that officials label as unsafe, and businesses may clean up their act. But violators may “find themselves celebrated as some sort of weird folk heroes standing up to government domination,” he said.

Moreover, the publicity may encourage more misbehavior as reluctant businesses realize “there are other scofflaws out there.”

Better to reward positive behavior by giving businesses that follow the rules a public seal of approval, “as opposed to ‘This business sucks, they’re horrible,’” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at University of California, San Francisco.

“This is literally called shaming, public shaming,” Gandhi said.

It’s emblematic of California’s general approach, which has been to focus on poor behavior, she said, even if officials have been reluctant to impose punishment.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Wednesday said his office would not enforce a …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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