PORTSMOUTH — The Scioto County Health Department announced last week that a local restaurant has repetitively violated multiple state orders in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Not enforcing masks or social distancing, the Skyline Family Restaurant inside the Greater Portsmouth Regional Airport, now stands risk of paying fines.
According to a document posted on SCHD’s Facebook page, Skyline did not mandate employees to wear masks, tables were not spaced to allow for social distancing, and hand sanitizer was not made readily available. Following complaints from the public, public health employees visited the restaurant three times in July. On each occasion, they advised restaurant personnel that they were violating the Dine Safe Ohio and Facial Coverings orders.
“We would like for them to be compliant, to wear their masks, and to follow the governor’s recommendations,” SCHD Commissioner Dr. Michael Martin said.
Tammy Blackburn, co-owner of the Skyline Family Restaurant, offered a different picture as to the precautions taken by her restaurant. Typical sanitary measures have been followed as usual in addition to social distancing practices, she said.
“The only thing we’re not doing is masks,” said Blackburn, who has owned the restaurant 12 years with her husband.
The heat is very intense inside their kitchen, which makes wearing the masks very uncomfortable for her employees. Due to this, she is not requiring them to wear one inside the restaurant.
The Portsmouth Daily Times visited the restaurant on Sept. 10, a few weeks after SCHD’s announcement. Signs were present asking for social distancing, a list Covid-19 symptom, and a do not enter sign for those feeling sick. With exception for the do not enter sign, these signs have been up since its reopening May 21. Tables, including the front diner, were closed for eating and three bottles of hand sanitizer were present by the cash register.
Napkin holders are no longer present on the tables and all reusable bottles, such as ketchup, barbecue and steak sauces, are wiped down with bleached rags.
So far at least, Martin said most other county businesses have been following the orders and minimal complaints from customers have been aired. The decision to enforce penalties against Skyline comes after repeated complaints and warnings from the health department, no other business drawing such attention.
The next violation by the restaurant will cost $100, the rate growing by an additional $100 for each subsequent violation. This penalty differs from Portsmouth City Council’s mask mandate, passed July 13. Following one warning, fines differed for individuals and places of business. For a second and subsequent violation, individuals pay fines of $25 for each charge. Places of business are charged $500 for its second violation and $1,000 for each following offense.
Acting under a different jurisdiction, Martin said the fines were determined by the public health board and could be applied to all places of business separate of Portsmouth in the county.
These fines will not change Blackburn’s stance, as she understands that the fines cannot be enforced by the health department following conversations with the 1851 Center for constitutional Law in Columbus. In a similar case, the center announced it would be fighting for a Savannah, Ohio restaurant that was shut down by its county health department after its cook refused to wear a mask.
“The Ohio Constitution prevents administrative agencies from imagining new policies for suspending licenses and shutting down businesses,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson in the July press release. “The State’s mask requirements remain largely symbolic and unenforceable.”
Ultimately, she said she wants to continue helping her customers by making them comfortable with something familiar in these unfamiliar times. Sometimes that means bending the rules a little bit, not enforcing masks, and allowing some customers to enter during the shutdown.
“A lot of older people did not fare well during the shutdown, so my thing is they need some human interaction” said Blackburn. “I know a lot of people say, ‘You’re going to make them sick;’ no, there are worse things than COVID.”
Three employees have been tested for the coronavirus, all results coming back negative. When one family member of an employee tested positive, the employee still quarantined for 14 days.
Being 3 miles away from the Minford Local School District, Martin said it was paramount for all places of business to take precautions seriously. Already before the school year started this year, Minford High School’s football team was put in a 14-day quarantine after one player tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We’ll get this under control a lot quicker if we just wash our hands, wear our masks and stay 6 feet apart,” said Martin. “Hopefully a vaccine will be out soon, and we’ll get things back to normal, but in the meantime we just need to stay safe.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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