Increased coronavirus enforcement at businesses coming to Delaware

Wilmington, Delaware, during the coronavirus shutdown

A jogger can be seen in the distance running in Wilmington during the coronavirus shutdown Thursday March 26, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Are you on the front lines of the coronavirus? Help us report on the pandemic.

Inspectors from the Division of Public Health have made more than 300 compliance checks at businesses throughout Delaware.

About 100 of those visits found no problems. Most of the remaining 200 or so businesses were advised on how to come into compliance. For some, that meant more consistent mask-wearing for staff or better social distancing for employees and customers.

Up to this point, state health inspectors have mainly been “educational” in their approach, helping business owners understand the protocols and how to follow the rules.

That gentler approach will change, according to Jamie Mack, chief of Health Systems Protection at DPH.

“Coming into August, we’re looking at how we can increase our enforcement presence, as well as maybe raise the bar a little bit,” Mack said. “Maybe see if some of our businesses, and those in our community, can do a little better.”

That increased enforcement could include more fines. “Once we start putting some dollar signs on inspection forms, masks tend to appear very quickly,” he said. “We haven’t had to get too aggressive, yet.”

Earlier this week, Gov. John Carney warned that if the “enforcement by education” approach isn’t successful in getting businesses to comply, the state does have the power to reinstate stricter limits.

“The other approach is to go backwards and limit the ability of businesses to be open in some form or fashion,” Carney said. “We prefer not to do that. So we’re going to try enforcement — targeted enforcement first — so folks need to think about the conditions in their establishments.”

The threat to restore restrictions on businesses is an effort to keep more businesses open, Mack said.

“It’s almost counterintuitive to think that we’re increasing enforcement to keep businesses open, but that’s really the case,” he said. “We want to make sure that we have adequate protections out there for the public, but we also want to make sure that the businesses are taking the right steps, and that we’re able to hold the ones that aren’t taking the right steps accountable, so that we can ensure that businesses doing the right thing can remain open.”

Most complaints have been about violations of rules requiring face masks. “The face-covering violations, that’s right at the top, that is partly because as the governor … said, that is one of our most important protections,” Mack said. “That just shows that that’s where our enforcement needs to focus a little more, and that’s why we’re working so hard on some of our next steps.”

The state is considering a modification on Carney’s executive order requiring face masks to further clarify where and when they must be worn.

DPH has been following up on tips from the public for the majority of its investigations.

“We want to encourage everyone that if they see a business that’s not in compliance, if they have a concern, if they have a question, they’re more than welcome to reach out,” Mack said. Complaints can be filed via email at hspcontact@delaware.gov.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal