As state steps up enforcement, businesses work to meet COVID-19 regulations

Saving Grace Christian Bookstore owner Sheila Williams stands behind a wood-framed plexiglass sneeze guard. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

DOVER — After promising to step up enforcement in August and September to stem the spread of COVID-19, the Delaware Division of Public Health has issued a total of six administrative penalties and one short-term closure to businesses for noncompliance with regulations.

The most notable actions were taken against Rancho El 24 in Bridgeville and Mexican Folkloric Dance Society of New York in early September for a rodeo that drew about 1,500 people and did not require mask-wearing or social-distancing.

DPH spokeswoman Jen Brestel said the agency assessed a $21,000 administrative penalty due to “severe noncompliance of the Governor’s State of Emergency order” ($10,000 each for face covering and social distancing violations, $1,000 for failure to secure proper approval). The DPH did inform the event organizers that penalties issued by the agency may be reduced if actions were taken to assist any potential contact tracing efforts within seven days of receipt of the enforcement notice.

In Kent County, only one business has been fined for violations thus far.

The Green Stinger in Woodside was assessed a $1,000 administrative penalty ($500 per violation) for continued noncompliance of COVID-19 requirements, according to the DPH.

In Sussex County, there has been one smaller violation in addition to the incident at Rancho El 24.

Bethany Auto Parts and Marine Supplies in Ocean View was assessed a $100 administrative penalty for continued noncompliance of COVID-19 requirements, according to the DPH.

The other three administration penalties were issued in New Castle County, including the only closure.

Ms. Brestel said DPH inspectors observed multiple violations during an inspection at Mad Mac’s in Newark on Friday, Aug. 28. The establishment agreed to close to address the compliance issues and reopened the following day.

No fine was issued to Mad Mac’s, Ms. Brestel said, but repeat violations could result in closure, fines or other actions.

In August, BPG Sports, which runs the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, was assessed a $5,000 administrative penalty ($1,000 per violation) for continued noncompliance of COVID-19 requirements, according to the DPH. The 76ers Fieldhouse hosted several basketball and football events over the summer.

Drop Squad Kitchen in Wilmington was assessed a $300 administrative penalty ($100 per violation) and Malin’s Deli in Newark was assessed a $200 administrative penalty ($100 per violation per staff member) for continued noncompliance of COVID-19 requirements at both establishments, according to the DPH.

Ms. Brestel said penalties assessed are based on severity of the violations observed and continued noncompliance. They can range from $100 to $1,000 per violation per day.

The DPH has received more than 1,500 complaints regarding COVID-19 compliance among businesses, Ms. Brestel said. However, not all complaints result in a site visit, about half result in an initial phone call to ensure the business is aware of the requirements and to discuss any issues, she said.

As of the beginning of September, DPH inspectors have conducted more than 850 site visits during Phase Two of Delaware’s reopening, with about half of those (more than 400 inspections) occurring in August, according to the DPH.

Jamie Mack, the DPH’s chief of Health Systems Protection, said his team that does inspections boosted its enforcements in August, and promised to do the same in September at a COVID-19 press conference several weeks ago.

“We were not as patient with some of the facilities as we’ve been in the past,” Mr. Mack said.

The most common complaint, Mr. Mack said is the lack of face coverings. He added one of the issues arising this month is some stores have had their floor markings and signage wear off.

“In some places we’ve had them up for so long that they need to be replaced,” Mr. Mack said. “We need to get people to start to replace some of the signs that are either worn out or don’t have the most up to date information.”

Operating in a COVID world

Once Gov. John Carney gave the green light for businesses to reopen with restrictions during COVID, owners and employees have had to comply with various regulations, from presenting hand sanitizer to wearing facial coverages and posting signage. The detailed requirements, which vary by industry, are outlined in the state’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines.

Since reopening, business has been brisk at Chardon Jewelers LTD in Georgetown.

“Since we have been able to open up … really quite wonderful,” said Donna Koskey, who owns and operates the business on The Circle with husband Charlie Koskey. “People are coming out, and they still have their needs. They still need a battery (watch); No. 1, service items for sure.”

“And people still are getting married. Birthdays are still happening, anniversaries, retirement gifts, engraving for awards and plaques – we do that also. So, these things really are continuing, and we’re quite thankful that our customers are still coming,” Ms. Koskey said.

Owner Sheila Williams has an array of sanitizers at the entrance to Saving Grace Christian Bookstore in Middletown. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

Signage instructs customers to wear a facial covering.

“We do ask them to wear a mask. That is the policy now. When that changes, that would be different then,” said Ms. Koskey. “And we have hand lotion or hand sanitizer all over the store to help people to shop comfortably. We’re very lucky; the community is coming back to us. So, we are very thankful.”

Some people call ahead to see if business is by appointment only, which it is not in Chardon’s case.

“We tell them, ‘No, you are just required to wear mask in and show some distance with us,’” said Ms. Koskey. “Everyone is quite wonderful with it, all of our clientele. Even the new ones. We’ve had some new customers come in because of course we have many people coming to our area to relocate.”

In Middletown, owner Sheila Williams locks the doors to her Saving Grace Christian Bookstore between customers, sheds her mask and sanitizes doorknobs and whatever else patrons may have touched. She uses a small vacuum to remove lint and anything tracked inside by patrons, she said.

There’s a table filled with Lysol to disinfect the premises, along with Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer for customers at the front of her small store in downtown Middletown, along with disposable masks for arrivals who are without face coverings.

“I would hate to think that anybody would come in and touch something that hadn’t been cleaned, or someone who came in before them would,” she said.

Masks are a must inside the store and customers must knock and wait to be let inside, but Ms. Williams said “There’s been not one complaint ever. None.

“We have the best customers and they’re like ‘I understand, what can I do?, Whatever you want me to do,’ They are so accommodating.

“I apologize to them and they say ‘No apologies necessary.’ “

On Tuesday mornings, Ms. Williams often travels to the Family Dollar as a supply truck arrives, hoping to snatch up Lysol before it gets sold to someone else.

“I grab five or six if I can, which can hold me for a little while. Cleaning supplies are expensive, which doesn’t help either.”

At a cost of between $100 to $105, Ms. Williams had a wooden framed plexiglass sneeze guard installed at the sales counter. The expense challenged a business that’s experienced a drop of 40% to 60% in foot traffic, she said.

Ms. Williams said she’s getting by on a large amount of faith and prayer at this point.

“It’s just such an ordeal to stay open especially we have so fewer customers than we normally have,” she said.

Wearing masks with a supply of hand sanitizer handy for employees and customers, Donna Koskey, co-owner of Chardon Jewelers, LTD, and employee Carol Thomas man one of the showcases at the business on The Circle in Georgetown. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

While the bookstore remains open, “A lot of churches closed and our supplies just sit here. A lot of them are not open, they’re doing it by Zoom so they don’t need offertory envelopes, things that usually come with actually being at a church.”

Compliance in the area

The Delaware State News in September observed a number of small business retailers in downtown markets and shopping centers in its coverage area for five criteria from the governor’s reopening guidelines for businesses. Based on what was observed, here is the compliance noted from those areas for each requirement:

• Businesses must make hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations readily available for all employees, patrons, and visitors throughout the business’ location, including at each entry and exit at a minimum. Hand sanitizer must be composed of at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.

Milford — 6 of 21 complied

Smyrna — 1 of 8 complied

Middletown — 3 of 7 complied

Dover — 15 out of 15 complied

Georgetown — 8 of 15 complied

Millsboro — 6 of 14 complied

Seaford — 9 of 18 complied

• Employers must post signs on how to stop the spread of COVID-19, hand hygiene, and how to properly wear a cloth face covering.

Milford — 11 out of 21 complied

Smyrna — 2 of 8 complied

Middletown — 5 of 7 complied

Dover — 13 out of 15 complied

Georgetown — 13 of 15 complied

Millsboro — 13 of 14 complied

Seaford — 16 of 18 complied

Wearing face masks.

Milford — 16 of 21 complied

Smyrna — 7 of 8 complied

Middletown — 7 of 7 complied

Dover — 14 out of 15 complied

Georgetown — 14 of 15 complied

Millsboro — 13 of 14 complied

Seaford — 14 of 18 complied

• Mark six feet of spacing in check-out lines.

Milford — 7 of 21 complied

Smyrna — 5 of 8 complied

Middletown — 6 of 7 complied

Dover — 13 out of 15 complied

Georgetown — 5 of 15 complied

Millsboro — 7 of 14 complied

Seaford — 7 of 18 complied

• Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, and change layout of workspaces to ensure all individuals remain at least 6-feet apart

Milford — 5 of 21 complied

Smyrna — 5 of 8 complied

Middletown — 5 of 7 complied

Dover — 12 out of 15 complied

Georgetown — 2 of 15 complied

Millsboro — 1 of 14 complied

Seaford — 4 of 18 complied

Ms. Brestel said DPH inspectors are conducting on-site visits of businesses across the state daily. Most inspections are complaint-driven, but the DPH also regularly conducts unannounced compliance checks in areas throughout the state, she said.

An initial inspection typically results in education, Ms. Brestel said. She added inspectors have stated to businesses that they would fine or even close for repeat violations, but there often has not been a need for these actions because the businesses have complied, sometimes as the inspector waited.

The public can report COVID-19 noncompliance by emailing HSPcontact@delaware.gov.

Delaware State News reporters Glenn Rolfe, Craig Anderson, Mike Finney and Noah Zucker contributed to this story.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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