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Businesses in virus hot spots hit for lack of COVID safety measures

October 15, 2020 Reuven Blau, THE CITY
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No cleaning logs, no records of employee temperature checks and no safety plans.

Those are some of the top violations issued by city inspectors to businesses primarily in designated COVID-19 hot spot areas where strict limits have been ordered by government officials to stem a rise in coronavirus infections.

All told, city civilian inspectors gave out 1,095 violations to 247 spots between Sept. 29 and Oct. 13, according to the mayor’s office.

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The top offenses were for the lack of: cleaning logs (211); employee health screening logs (209); and safety plans (205), records show. Inspectors also had made over 6,600 warnings as of Tuesday, according to Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Still, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is worried that city officials and those representing other hot spots around the state have not taken aggressive enough enforcement actions. He vowed to hold back state funding if local governments don’t do better job cracking down on social distancing violations.

“Hopefully that will motivate them,” Cuomo told reporters, noting there were 938 hospitalizations throughout the state on Wednesday — the highest number since June.

He cited reports of Jewish private schools still open, saying it should be “easy enough to find out” who was in violation of the closure order.

“I guarantee if a yeshiva gets closed down and they’re not going to get state funding you will see compliance,” Cuomo added.

‘Flooded the Zone’

Even as the de Blasio administration said it was coming down hard on violators, officials largely declined to share some basic information, such as the locations hit.

“We don’t make the names of the establishments available for business inspections; these aren’t criminal penalties,” Schwartz said.

The city has long made that type of information, such as data about businesses fined for violating the paid sick leave law, public.

In a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the city has “flooded the zone” with 2,400 inspectors and health workers to warn people in areas with increased cases about the importance of wearing masks and keeping socially distant, according to District Council 37 Director Henry Garrido, whose union represents those workers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks in New York City during the phase one reopening on Monday, June 8, 2020. Photo: Governor Cuomo’s Office
City employees dispatched range from restaurant inspectors to public health epidemiologists to representatives of the city’s contact and trace program.

“My members are going there and doing what they do — helping the community get through this,” said Garrido, adding he was worried some still did not have the proper protective equipment.

City sheriffs separately issued summonses to 11 businesses in the Queens cluster areas, and 18 to firms in the Brooklyn hot spots from Oct. 5 to Oct. 12, according to Schwartz. Sheriffs also broke up a rave in Cunningham Park in Queens on Sunday and handed summonses to 29 people.

Additionally, city sheriffs issued 11 summonses for the maximum $15,000. Eight synagogues in Brooklyn were among those fined, Schwartz said.

Deterrence Value Questioned

The city did not break down the types of business fined. But the total figures show that it would barely represent a tiny fraction of the restaurant business, noted Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, an association representing restaurants and nightlife venues throughout the city.

“We hope that those that do not pose an immediate hazard are given a warning before a fine is levied,” he said. “Restaurants are doing an excellent job with compliance.”

One researcher thinks government officials are taking the wrong approach.

Jullian Harris-Calvin, program director at the Vera Institute of Justice, a research organization against mass incarceration, notes research shows that the kind of punishment someone receives has very little deterrent effect.

“It’s ineffective,” she said. “People are really suffering because of COVID-19 and you’re trying to address one harm by exacerbating the economic harm.”

Government officials should “address the underlying reasons” why members of the community aren’t complying, she added, urging the city to boost efforts to work with religious leaders.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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