“I believe that the local businesses, the health department and the public are all partners on the same team. Sometimes it is painted as if the three groups are adversaries, but this is inaccurate,” said Jeff Pack, the owner of Meadow View Growers in New Carlisle.
“We all have the common goal of helping each other to continue through our lives safely,” he added.
Complaints are not just limited to businesses as some concern residents who may not have complied with state guidelines pertaining to social distancing or having large gatherings.
Roughly 515 complaints were filed with the health district between March 17 and May 18, according to documents from the health district which were obtained by the News-Sun through a public records request.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 24 and ran into May 19. Under the order, Ohioans were told to stay home unless going to get medicine, medical care, groceries, necessary supplies and taking care of neighbors or family. Residents could also go outside to get exercise or go to work for an essential business.
On May 19, the governors replaced the stay-at-home with an, “urgent health advisory,” which still incorporates six feet of social distancing, limiting mass gathering to 10 people and frequent hand washing. It also includes business orders about social distancing and sanitation.
Complaints range from employees not wearing a mask while working to non-essential businesses remaining open after the governor’s order went into effect to residents not complying with social-distancing orders and holding parties.
Larry Shaffer, Director of Environmental Health for the CCCHD, said when a complaint is received by the district it is evaluated against the governor’s health order. He noted that sometimes, complaints do not qualify as violations for any order, and therefore do not require the district to follow up on them.
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“For example, we have received complaints that businesses have required customers to wear facial covers,” Shaffer said. “The customer may not like it, but businesses may require customers to wear facial covers even though the (stay-at-home order) does not require it.”
If a complaint does qualify as violating the order, Shaffer said, the district first reaches out to the business or organization.
“We let them know the nature of the complaint and ask if we can talk about it. Many times it’s very obvious if the complaint is valid like, for the complaints of no facial covering, other times it’s not so obvious like for the complaints that employees couldn’t get sick time or work stations were not cleaned between users,” Shaffer said. “In asking if we can talk about it, it lets the business know we are there to prompt health and help them comply with the orders.”
Meadow View Growers, Jeff Wyler Springfield Auto Mall in Springfield, Navistar in Springfield and Lowes in Springfield and Dole Fresh Vegetables Co., in Springfield received the most complaints in the county. Meadow View received 16 complaints between March 17 and May 18, Jeff Wyler had 12, Navistar had 11 and Lowes had 8 and Dole had 7, according to the documents.
Shaffer said, “many,” of the complaints were called into the district because “the customer’s or employee’s expectation were not met.”
“We have to realize that for example, sometimes there will be people momentarily closer than 6 feet together. This does not necessarily mean that the business has not complied with (stay-at-home orders),” Shaffer said. “They may have all the provisions required by (stay-at-home orders) in place, but individual customers and fellow employees may occasionally go astray.”
Shaffer said in Meadow View’s case, the garden center has complied with all investigations and compliance checks. As for the other businesses, Shaffer said the district has not had any businesses not comply with recommendations or compliance checks.
“We realize that we are on the same page and all of us are trying keep each other safe during these unprecedented times,” Pack said.
Complaints against his business Meadow View ranged from why his business was considered essential to not following social distancing, employees not wearing masks and that large numbers of customers were “crammed in the entrance waiting.”
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However, Pack said Meadow View has been following social distancing guidelines and other preventive measures since they were first introduced. He said over time they have added more.
Those include having face shields up for all cashiers, requiring employees to wear face coverings, limiting the number of customers allowed in, which is 120 people at a time in an area that comprises of 80,000 square feet of retail space, and posting signage around the garden center.
Bryna Chandler, the marketing and events manager for Meadow View, said they screen employees when they come into work by checking their temperature. They have also placed social distancing markings at the store.
In terms of face coverings, an exception would be if an employee is properly socially distanced while in a greenhouse especially if outside temperatures are above 80 degrees, Chandler added. She said that greenhouses tend to be 15 degrees hotter.
Navistar, which received 11 complaints, has told the News-Sun that they have implemented several safety measures throughout the pandemic, especially as the company resumed production earlier this month on its main assembly line in Springfield.
That includes providing employees with PPE, including face coverings, sanitizing supplies and wipes. Employees are also screened for symptoms associated with the coronavirus.
Representatives of Navistar said they have also implemented social distancing when possible.
However, some complaints filed against them in late March and the beginning of April questioned whether the company was enforcing guidelines and making sure the facility was clean.
“We found that nearly everyone had it in their interests to watch out for the health and safety of employees and guests,” Shaffer said.
The News-Sun reached out to Jeff Wyler and Lowes about the complaints filed about their businesses and did not receive a response.
Clark County had 255 cases, five deaths and one probable death, of the coronavirus as of Thursday, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s website.
Of those cases, 28 are from a workplace outbreak linked to Dole Fresh Vegetables. The first positive coronavirus case at Dole was detected on April 22, according to the CCCHD.
Complaints about the plant’s handling of workplace procedures related to the coronavirus had started to come into the health district about a month earlier, documents say.
Between March 25 and April 24, seven different complaints were made to the district about Dole. Complaints ranged from the plant not enforcing social distancing to supervisors not taking staff members temperatures, according to the documents.
The most recent complaint, filed on April 24 — two days after the first case was detected — said Dole, “was not protecting workers and not sending contacts of positive cases home.”
The district followed up on all seven of the complaints, CCCHD Commissioner Charles Patterson told the News-Sun previously.
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“With all of our complaints that are made about a business, we contact them and we talk about their practices and we do education and educate their employees so they understand what their requirements are,” Patterson said.
As for the complaint filed on April 24, Patterson said the district was speaking with Dole, “on a daily basis at this point.”
“We had found that complaint not to be the case. We had reached out to Dole case contacts and we knew that when they were ill, they were sent home,” Patterson said.
Representatives of Dole said that the company has been following state guidelines and recommendations designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. They said that includes social distancing, extensive hand washing, requiring face coverings at all times at its facilities and mandated self quarantining for employees and contractors exposed to those who have tested positive.
In addition, a statement from the company said that they have increased the frequency of deep cleaning and sanitation, especially in places they deemed “high touch areas.”
William Goldfield, a spokesperson for the company, told the News-Sun last week that they have added protocols to ensure greater distancing between workers within Dole’s Clark County facility.
“The procedure is to notify employees who are in close contact to any reported positive to which they have been exposed,” he said.
Goldfield added that as of May 20, temperature screening had yet to be implemented but the company was gathering equipment needed and expected “to proceed as immediately as possible.”
Sample of complaints made to Clark County Combined Health District
The Clark County Combined Health District more than 500 complaints during Ohio’s stay-at-home order. Here is a sampling:
—Employees not wearing face coverings
—Questions on whether a business met the qualifications to be deemed “essential”
—Not adhering to social distancing guidelines
—Not checking employee temperatures
—Not deep cleaning facilities