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As more businesses reopen, will enforcement truly take place?

Posted at 6:02 PM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-29 00:44:12-04

PHOENIX — As more businesses reopen in Arizona counties that have moved into the "moderate" phase of reopening, the state's largest county, Maricopa County, has not yet signed a contract with the Arizona Department of Health Sevices detailing their role in the state's enforcement efforts.

Ron Coleman, a public information officer for the Maricopa County Joint Information Center, told ABC15 that the county was still in negotiations with ADHS.

However, he said the county does have county health inspectors that make sure restaurants are following the food code. They also have six inspectors who follow-up and investigate complaints regarding restaurant issues, he said.

A spokesperson for ADHS said the agency already has a contract with Maricopa County for inspections and compliance under Smoke Free Arizona. It also has its own inspectors who are investigating complaints and issues throughout the county.

"Following discussions that began in late July, a contract amendment has been reviewed and approved by the Attorney General's Office and awaits review by the Board of Supervisors, as is the normal process. This will have county health officials supplementing the ADHS staff already following up on complaints about businesses in Maricopa County," ADHS said in a statement.

ADHS said in a previous news release that it has entered into contracts with most other health departments to investigate complaints and to enforce the safety guidelines. ABC15 discovered on our own that Maricopa County did not yet have an agreement in place.

Local police departments and the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control have also been tasked with enforcing the guidelines. Agencies will focus on education first, an ADHS spokesperson said, but further action could be taken if a violation continues.

The state has also created a website and hotline where people can submit complaints against businesses.

Bars, gyms, movie theaters, water parks, and tube operators were all cleared to reopen Thursday at reduced capacities -- 25% for gyms and 50% for bars, movie theaters, and water parks -- and strict safety measures in seven Arizona counties, including Maricopa County.

Those industries have been closed since the end of June.

"These next two weeks are absolutely critical," said Will Humble, the former director of ADHS. "This is the opportunity to show businesses that the state means business."

Humble told ABC15 that some business owners will take notice of how stringent - or not - the state's enforcement is.

"Probably a majority of businesses are doing the right thing, right out of the box," Humble said. "They'll continue to do the right thing as long as they know that their competitors are also doing the right thing. If their competitors start cheating, and getting away with it, it sends a message to the merchants that are trying to do things right that it's OK to cheat."