Early concern about neighbors reporting on neighbors for violating COVID-19 restrictions over Thanksgiving and into the holiday season may fizzle out, following a quiet weekend. According to Lt. Juli-Ann McConkey, public information officer for the City of Bend Police Department, police received just one complaint about COVID-related compliance over the Thanksgiving weekend, and they did not issue a citation. Likewise, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office had received no complaints about Thanksgiving gatherings as of Nov. 27. Ahead of the national holiday, state health officials had advised that no more than six people or two households gather together, to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Central Oregonians have thus far not engaged in copious reporting about homes or businesses violating mask and social distancing orders. From March 20 through Nov. 30, Bend PD reported receiving 209 complaints, with none resulting in a citation or fine. (Police did help city Code Enforcement officers issue one citation that resulted in a $100 fine.) Generally, the Police Department enforces masking guidelines regarding individuals and responds to calls to the non-emergency line with concerns that customers are not wearing masks at businesses. Other business-related complaints are handled by City of Bend Code Enforcement.
“When we receive a call for service regarding someone not wearing a mask in a business, we respond to the call, try and locate the individual, educate the individual, and offer a mask to them,” said McConkey in an email interview. “If the individual refuses to wear the mask, then they will be asked to leave the business.”
Following a special meeting back in July, the Bend City Council established a potential $100 fine for the first violation, a $250 fine for the second and a $500 fine for any subsequent violation of the Oregon Health Authority’s statewide Mask, Face Shield and Face Covering Guidance. The City Council recently updated its masking requirements at a Nov. 18 meeting, expanding enforcement efforts and establishing a new fine of up to $750 on businesses and organizations. Potential fines and general enforcement for individuals will remain the same. Enforcing the new changes will fall on Code Enforcement, which handles most enforcement regarding maskless customers or employees at businesses. So far, enforcement has been complaint-driven.
During the Nov. 18 City Council meeting, James Goff, Code Enforcement manager, explained how it will change.
“Complaints are filed by call-in to our COVID hotline with notice of violation letters provided to businesses in question, along with links to all of our current COVID guidelines,” Goff said. “We obviously are doing that because the thing that we’re trying to establish is voluntary compliance. Businesses receiving more than one complaint are inspected at least three times to determine whether or not a violation exists. If a violation is observed, a citation is then issued to that particular business.”
Code Enforcement will now move past complaint-based enforcement, conducting “random plain-clothes inspections of businesses or business types that have been recognized to be problematic,” Goff said. “Based on those observations, notice of violation letters would continue to be issued to first-time offenders with citations being issued if they’re going into a business that has previously been warned.” Unless Code Enforcement receives updated guidance from the City Council, Goff says they will continue to focus on voluntary compliance. This mirrors the Police Department’s direction as well.
“Bend Police would like to remind our community members to wear their masks, and we will continue to gain compliance through education.” — Lt. Juli-Ann McConkeytweet this
“Bend Police would like to remind our community members to wear their masks,” said Lt. McConkey, “and we will continue to gain compliance through education.”
To cover the increased costs for Code Enforcement, City Council discussed using $15,000 of the remaining $50,000 in CARES Act funds that it must use by the end of the calendar year. It’s looking to allocate another $10,000 of that to COVID-19 communication efforts, and $15,000 in economic hardship aid to members of the community most affected by the recent two-week freeze.
UPDATE 12/02/2020: James Goff told the Source Weekly via email that Code Enforcement received 23 COVID-19 guidelines adherence complaints about businesses over Thanksgiving week. He said that’s normal for November, but still higher than previous months.
“We absolutely do not want to be in a position to pursue enforcement action,” Goff said. “Many online educational resources are available to businesses and the general public, so we are hopeful they will continue to utilize this information.” That information is available here.