COVID-19 has hit our communities in a devastating way, not only through the tragic loss of lives but also through the major financial impacts to many of our businesses. The severity of the impact to our business community has not been lost on the County Board of Supervisors. The health and economic crisis led the County Board of Supervisors to already commit more than $120 million in community support to help mitigate the devastating impacts of the pandemic. As COVID-19 continues to impact local businesses, the Board of Supervisors has committed to support another $20 million dollars in business assistance grants. The program is being finalized to launch in March and more information will be available in the coming weeks at www.vcreopens.com.
Throughout the pandemic the overwhelming majority of businesses have worked hard to protect our communities through observance of public health orders. These businesses have been innovative, reinventing how they do business and also offering a safe place for their employees and customers. These businesses have shown the grit and community spirit that has shined bright through the disasters we have faced.
Business support has always been the goal of COVID-19 response efforts in our County. A one-of-a-kind in the state business ambassador program was launched early in 2020 to help businesses understand COVID safety protocols and help them identify ways to safely stay open. Unfortunately, an extremely few number of businesses refused to close indoor operations in accordance with state public health orders during the recent surge and at a time when death tolls were increasing, infections were skyrocketing and hospitals were overflowing with severely ill COVID patients.
In these very few instances it was only as a last resort that the County requested the court to intervene, a decision that was not made lightly. Court assistance was sought after all other efforts taken had been exhausted. Business ambassadors visited local businesses with the spirit of education. More than 15,000 businesses have been visited during the pandemic and the vast majority of these businesses have been doing all they can to follow safety protocols.
These few businesses continuing to operate in violation of public health orders had many opportunities to work with County, City code inspectors, or state inspectors to create a safe environment but were not willing to observe public health orders, putting their employees and community members at risk. The businesses were also unfairly competing with the overwhelming majority of businesses that worked diligently to maintain safety and abide by Public Health Orders. Fortunately, most all these businesses have since come into compliance and the cases have been dropped without any financial sanctions.
The County’s business compliance hotline receives complaints about businesses that are not compliant. Sometimes it’s an employee who doesn’t feel safe at their place of employment but is fearful of speaking out. Other times it’s a customer who has concerns about the safety of community members when a business doesn’t follow the public health safety guidelines. Ambassadors visit those businesses to aid and educate the businesses on what they need to do to offer a safe environment. The goal has been to support businesses so that employees and customers are safe to make sure further spread of COVID-19 is prevented.