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Coronavirus cases are on the decline in Salt Lake County and so are the number of complaints about businesses failing to require masks, social distancing — or worse.
The Salt Lake County Health Department received 158 public complaints related to COVID-19 in January, said spokesman Nicholas Rupp, and 104 — so far — in February.
That’s down from October, when there were 400 complaints, followed by 373 in November and 237 in December.
Since March 9, 2020 — when the county started logging pandemic-related calls and emails — there have been more than 4,200 complaints about businesses not following guidelines, Rupp said.
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Most of the complaints involve restaurants and bars, but consumers also have notified the department about possible noncompliance at convenience stores, hotels, barbershops and hair salons as well as dog groomers, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor swimming pools, shuttle services and even a state liquor store.
“Bars and restaurants have been more of a focus because they are places where masks are removed to eat or drink,” Rupp said. Unlike some other retail stores, “the risk of transmission is much greater.”
The complaints typically come from customers, but sometimes employees report the places they work.
Among the hundreds of complaints health inspectors have investigated since Jan. 1:
Draper restaurant (Feb. 10) • “Customers are not required to wear a mask. Employees working even after they tested positive. Chef was touching pizza with bare hands.”
Draper bakery (Feb. 9) • “Entire staff was exposed to COVID at a holiday party without social distancing or masks, continued to allow all employees to work.”
Draper convenience store (Feb. 3) • “Employee working in the kitchen the day after she was sent home for throwing up blood and complaining about not being able to breathe properly. Store director had employee come back the next morning without being tested.”
Millcreek fast-food restaurant (Jan. 28) • “One staff member had her mask down with gloves on putting food in her mouth. Upon finishing, she put her mask back on and went back to handling food with the same gloves on without changing them and washing her hands.”
South Jordan barbershop (Jan. 25) • “Employees consistently not wearing masks; they only wear them when a client walks in wearing one. An employee was asked to come in and work even though they were waiting on his COVID test results.”
Murray spa (Jan. 25) • “The spa routinely requires their therapist to report to work even when ill; on Monday, Jan. 25, one therapist was required to report to work even [though] she and all her family members had been vomiting the night before her shift. Other therapists had to report, too.”
Holladay coffee shop (Jan.21) • “Temperatures of employees aren’t taken at the start of shift, there’s not a safe place for employees to remove masks and drink water, customers aren’t sitting 6 feet apart, there’s not a safe system to remove dishes from tables and clean them.”
South Jordan sandwich shop (Jan. 21) • “Drive-thru worker was not wearing a mask. He also stuck his ungloved finger in his mouth.”
West Valley City hotel (Jan. 21) • “The hotel’s pool has been extremely over its capacity through Christmas, New Year’s, and now [Martin Luther King Jr. holiday] weekend.”
Salt Lake City fast-food restaurant (Jan. 20) • “Restaurant is filthy. Guy sleeping in a sleeping bag in the restroom. And out of about eight workers, only the two female employees were wearing masks. They all had their masks around their chins. I also observed food assemblers not using gloves to touch food.”
Taylorsville fast-food restaurant (Jan. 19) • “Manager at this location is failing to inform staff when someone has gotten COVID. They have put multiple employees and their families at risk, when employees were not informed of being in close proximity to a person having COVID-19.”
Midvale steakhouse (Jan. 19) • “Not following protocols for COVID-19, employees testing positive, close contacts going back to work without proper length of isolation, employee spouses feeling ill but employee still coming to work with no testing.”
West Jordan restaurant (Jan. 19) • “No COVID safety measures in place. Multiple guests in line without masks on at all, no hand sanitizer, and no attempt for social distancing for people waiting in line. Tables were very close together, without any tables marked as reserved or off-limits.”
Salt Lake City restaurant (Jan. 15) • “Customers are walking around getting salsa from the salsa bar without masks on. It is self-serve and a lot of customers are standing around the bar touching ladles.”
Salt Lake City restaurant (Jan. 9, second complaint) • “Not following the social distancing guidelines. Completely packed the restaurant on Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. There are 10-12 tables that can serve up to eight people, and they were full with close proximity to one another. No rules in place period.”
Salt Lake City shuttle service (Jan. 7) • “Driver was not wearing a mask. Driver said it was not mandatory.”
Salt Lake City liquor store (Jan. 3) • “Customers not distancing; employees not wearing masks correctly; exceed maximum capacity of store.”
Rupp said Health Department employees look into each complaint. Most businesses get a telephone call to remind them of the state’s COVID-19 guidelines and how best to enforce them.
If the information is more serious — or there are multiple complaints — the business will get an in-person visit by an inspector.
A few businesses have received written warnings and — in some extreme cases — have been ordered to close until they can comply.
That’s what happened recently when the county Health Department temporarily shuttered five bars in downtown Salt Lake City for violating the state’s coronavirus health orders.
Two of the bars — Lake Effect and Twist — reopened the next day.
The other three locations — Echo, Karma and an establishment at 60 W. Market St. (formerly known as the New Yorker) — have not reopened. The same owners operate all three establishments.
The department also issued warnings recently to three other downtown bars — Soundwell, Wasted Space and London Belle. Those establishments were able to stay open but would face closure upon repeated violations.
Rupp said the bars that were closed “have aggressively been ignoring” the health rules. “Everyone that has been closed had at least one, but generally two or more, written warnings.”
Health Department officials received a complaint about Echo on Jan. 4, and then again on Feb. 1 and Feb. 4, according to complaint records provided to The Salt Lake Tribune.
“Overcrowded, no one is wearing masks, tables have more than 10 people at them, and it looks like clubbing before a pandemic,” the written complaint said. “It doesn’t look like there is any guidelines being followed.”
The department did not receive a complaint about Karma, but because it shares a kitchen with Echo, Rupp said, it also was inspected and found to be noncompliant.
Echo had been shut down in September due to previous violations of the state’s health order, and sued the county Health Department in November over the restrictions.
To reopen, businesses must send a written plan to the department demonstrating how they will comply and enforce the health order, which requires staffers to wear face coverings at all times; patrons to wear face masks when not eating at a table; and establishments to keep parties and tables at a minimum 6-foot distance.
The health department cleared Echo and Karma for reopening on Feb. 19, Rupp said.
The fines were issued across the state and in all types of businesses. They range from a $1,500 penalty at a chicken wing restaurant in Spanish Fork to $4,500 at a car dealership in West Valley City.
Not all the complaints that the Salt Lake County Health Department has been investigating are related to COVID-19. Investigators are still sent out when they hear restaurants and bars might not be following the normally required cleaning procedures.
For example, the department received a complaint Jan. 11 about a Salt Lake City brewery with a pet.
“Brewery has a cat that lives in the dining area,” the complaint said. “Walking all over the counters, into the restrooms and on the tables.”
Inspectors cited the business, because — even during a pandemic — animals are prohibited in food establishments.
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