Health department’s inspection process for bars, restaurants includes unannounced checks on seating, spacing and closure compliance

photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo

The Lawrence-Douglas County health department's home at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine St., is pictured in this file photo from July 2010.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health is now conducting unannounced checks at bars, restaurants and entertainment venues to determine whether they are following certain COVID-19-related safety practices and closing at the required times, the health department said.

On Friday, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced it would begin doing compliance checks to ensure establishments with liquor licenses are following local health orders. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Director Dan Partridge told the Journal-World on Tuesday that inspections began on Friday and will continue into the “foreseeable future.” The health department plans to conduct compliance checks on all Douglas County establishments with liquor licenses, he said, but it will prioritize establishments that have received complaints from the public.

Partridge also shared more details about how the compliance checks work.

There are four categories of possible inspection visits: requests, seating compliance, closure compliance and complaints.

Requests are scheduled inspections made by establishments that want to visit with health department staff in order to better understand the order and comply, Partridge said.

Seating compliance checks are unannounced visits in which health department staff will go to establishments in the afternoon or early evening to check for compliance with seating, capacity and distancing requirements. The county’s health orders specify that restaurants, bars and entertainment venues that serve alcohol must have patrons seated at tables with no more than 10 people per table, and social distancing between tables and different parties must be followed.

Closure compliance visits, meanwhile, are intended to determine whether establishments with liquor licenses are violating health orders that require them to stop serving dine-in customers at 10 p.m. These visits will be done on a drive-by basis. If establishments with liquor licenses appear to be serving dine-in customers after 10 p.m., health department staff will take photos of the proceedings.

The fourth category of site visit is a check-in following a complaint, which the health department was already doing even before the other kinds of checks began. Health department employees who are following up on a complaint will attempt to document any violations with photos.

Only two of those types of visits — closure compliance visits and complaint visits — can result in the health department taking action against an establishment, according to a health department document that was sent to the county’s Unified Command last week. Partridge shared the document with the Journal-World.

If violations are found on one of these visits, the department can send the business a first violation letter, which would list the business’ violations along with the actions needed to correct them. Failure to comply a second time may result in a second violation letter. Any failure to comply after that may result in the closing of the establishment, per Kansas Statute 65-119, the health department’s document states.

“It is unlikely that these types of punitive actions will need to be taken, because local businesses have overwhelmingly voiced their support of efforts to keep our community healthy and safe,” the document states. “The goal of Lawrence-Douglas County Health Services is to partner with local businesses to answer questions and address concerns about compliance with the recent public health order. Site visits by members of the health department can facilitate these discussions and provide an opportunity to see first-hand the logistical challenges of capacity and seating arrangements.”

Partridge said he anticipates that the inspections will continue until the public health order is no longer in effect.


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