Is it safe to eat out?

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Complaints are coming in by the hundreds about employees and customers not following the state’s mask mandate and physical distancing guidelines. Some businesses were even temporarily closed for not following the health orders after being warned.

A small fraction of the COVID-19 related complaints filed in Salt Lake County on businesses working in the food industry include:

  • “Manager not wearing his mask properly.”
  • “Employees being asked to work while sick.”
  • “No Social Distancing. No Mask requirement for patrons”

Seth Nelson is the Environmental Health Supervisor at the Salt Lake County Health Department. He explains, “The public is really our eyes and ears for the most part because we can’t be everywhere every day.”

There were 1,264 complaints against Salt Lake County restaurants and food establishments from March 17 through October 27.

For this story, ABC4 News focused on a four week period with the most recent data from September 27 through October 27 in Salt Lake County.

ABC4 News uncovered 104 complaints against restaurants for employees not wearing a mask.

35 complaints of customers not wearing masks.

39 additional complaints about lack of physical distancing within restaurants.

ABC4 News also found 14 complaints against convenience stores for employees not wearing a mask, and nine more for customers not wearing one.

County investigators tell us they took eight complaints regarding employees working while allegedly infected with COVID-19

“We don’t want any outbreaks originating in these establishments,” says Nelson.

The Salt Lake County Health Department issued nine warning to social nightspots Ibiza, Echo, Liquid Joe’s, Wasted Space, Twist, Sky, London Bell, Lake Effect, and Johnny’s on Second.

In addition, the county issued two health order restrictions to Ibiza and Echo Night Club.

Button Up Holdings runs Echo Night Club and the owners are suing the county health department for “illegal regulatory enforcement” citing its clientele “are not at high risk of suffering serious consequences of COVID-19 infections,” and that it “severally damaged Echo’s business.”

“We intend to uphold the law,” says Eric Olsen with the Utah Labor Commission.

The Utah Labor Commission is now responsible for looking into employee and employer complaints for the state. The office’s 19 investigators are busy working on those complaints. In the last two weeks, they’ve investigated more than 200 complaints. That’s nearly double their regular workload. The biggest complaints they found are workers not wearing masks or wearing them improperly.

If cited, the Utah Occupational of Safety and Health can fine businesses up to $7,000 per violation.

Olsen adds, “So if they feel that’s worth the price, then that is what is going to happen.”

State officials say they will work with first-time offenders.

“So then maybe the fines can be reduced a little bit depending on that case and the opposite is true as well. The fine can be a max fine if they are just not going to take it seriously,” he says.

Businesses are advised to follow the state’s Coronavirus Task Force resources for Employers and Businesses.

Both officials with Salt Lake County and the State of Utah say they want to keep the economy open and healthy, but the only way they can do that is by having Utahns wear masks while in public.

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