About 700 La. businesses have received at least 1 violation of COVID-19 restrictions since May

Updated: Aug. 3, 2020 at 9:35 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A spokeswoman with the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LAOSFM) says more than 8,100 businesses across the state have been inspected for coronavirus restriction violations since May.

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She says about 700 of those businesses have received at least one violation. No citations have been issued at this time, however.

That means more than 90% of businesses in Louisiana are complying with the governor’s orders to wear masks and more to keep customers and employees safe.

LAOSFM, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) have been conducting inspections of businesses to make sure they’re following the governor’s orders. If they find a violation, they advise the business on how to fix the issue and make a note of it.

LAOSFM is working to implement a “three strikes rule”, where after a business receives three violations, the next step could be a citation, among other options. A citation is a criminal misdemeanor for violating the governor’s orders. This would require the business to go to court and could result in a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail.

For the 700 or so businesses that have been inspected, at least one violation may have been found, LAOSFM says. However, the ATC has suspended several bar’s permits to sell alcohol, while LDH has revoked one food permit from a restaurant.

“[The bars are] scheduled for hearings on August 5 and 6, and the result of those hearings could be a 30 day suspension of their alcohol license,” said State Fire Marshal Butch Browning.

When a bar’s alcohol permit is revoked by ATC, it could be shut down for 30 days and they must appear before a judge to appeal the decision.

“To make sure that, number one, that people understand and that people can comply and we can get together and change this, but in the event that people who don’t comply after chances, there are consequences,” said Browning.

While there’s no guarantee that after three chances there will be any action taken by LAOSFM, a citation could be on the table, but LAOSFM hasn’t cited any businesses yet.

Despite LDH ordering Firehouse BBQ in Livingston Parish to close its doors this week for COVID-19 violations, the restaurant was flooded with customers supporting the business on Monday, Aug. 3.

“Masks should not have to be mandatory. We are living in the United States of America. We should have the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech to do what we want and say what we want,” said Donna Burge, a customer.

“Our civil and religious liberties are being taken from us minute by minute. Our governor is tyrannical. He’s pushing socialistic ideologies on us as free Americans and we’re not going to tolerate it. We’re only going to support businesses that will allow us to come in without masks,” said Pastor Tony Spell.

According to LDH, the restaurant was ordered to close after the owner ignored requests to comply with the mask mandates and social distancing guidelines.

In a statement, a spokesperson said, “In situations where there are repeated violations or behavior that indicated education will not lead to compliance, the state health officer has the power to revoke the food permit of an establishment in the interest of public safety.”

LDH says restaurants must mandate that both its employees and customers wear masks, and put space in between tables.

Here’s the full statement from LDH:

“The Louisiana Department of Health and the State Fire Marshal’s Office work in conjunction in responding to businesses not following the Governor’s COVID-19 mandates. The Department sees education as the primary tool in encouraging businesses to comply with the Governor’s mask mandate and most businesses are complying with the mandate. In situations where there are repeated violations or behavior that indicates that education will not lead to compliance, the State Health Officer has the power to revoke the food permit of an establishment in the interest of public safety as is the case in this instance. Firehouse BBQ is the first establishment that the Department has taken this action against.

LDH and the State Fire Marshal recently received complaints indicating that the restaurant had posted notices on its front door and on social media saying it was not requiring the wearing of masks or face coverings by employees or customers.

An LDH inspection on July 27, 2020 confirmed the presence of the described front door sign, that Firehouse BBQ was not requiring employees or customers to wear masks or face coverings, and that tables were not properly spaced apart. Upon completion of the inspection and receipt of the inspection report, the owner of Firehouse BBQ made it clear the restaurant would not be complying with the Governor’s Proclamations. In the interest of the public’s health, the Department ordered the restaurant to close immediately.

LDH can order the closure of retail food establishments should conditions exist that pose a threat or danger to the public’s health. In this case, the conditions at Firehouse BBQ reached that standard.

In order to reopen, the restaurant must mandate the wearing of masks or face coverings by its employees and customers, provide and maintain table spacing, and sign an Agreement of Acknowledgment.

The Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommend wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Louisianans should feel safe when they are in public and if they enter a business, where people are not wearing masks or that, is operating without a food permit, then they should leave.”

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