Virginia Department of Health complaint form sparks concerns for businesses, customers

Violation of Executive Order 65 regarding masks is a misdemeanor, judge can impose fine

LYNCHBURG, Va. – As we get closer to Phase 3 of Virginia’s reopening plan, more businesses will continue to open their doors and that may sometimes come with scrutiny.

“We don’t take action based on what somebody tells us on the phone or via email,” said Jim Bowles, environmental health manager for the Lynchburg Health District.

Bowles said from March to the end of May, they’ve gotten about 70 complaint calls from customers who claim employees and patrons are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

“When we get a complaint, we would usually go head make a phone call to the business. It’s mostly a matter of making sure they understand what the requirements are,” Bowles said.

Bowles said people can complain through the state’s call center, a new online system set up about a week ago or by calling their local health district.

On Monday, 10 News requested complaint calls from Lynchburg’s health district and found businesses across the area had received several anonymous complaints.

We reached out to some, like Hill City Swim and Tennis Club in Campbell County, which received four complaints about social distancing. We reached out for comment and have not heard back.

Pet Aquatic Warehouse in Lynchburg got three complaints for employees who weren’t wearing masks.

They old 10 News in a full statement:

“As you know, under the governors executive order, citizens of the commonwealth are required to wear facial coverings while in public. Our company requires that all staff comply with this directive. However, certain members of our staff have health conditions that prohibit them from wearing facial coverings. Under section D clause 6 of the executive order, these staff members are exempt due to medical conditions where using a facial covering would be contrary to their health or safety. Most likely, the complaints about our store to the health department have been made by those that are not aware of this exemption. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have made the health and safety of our staff and patrons a top priority. We have implemented strict cleaning guidelines, require temperature checks of all staff, installed sneeze barriers at all checkout locations, and have closed our restrooms to the public. State Health Department officials have reviewed our safety protocols and determined that we are operating in accordance with their health and safety guidelines.”

“They’re good about complying. We have rarely had to make a follow up visit to any of them,” Bowles said.

The health department said employees who are medically exempt should not be in contact with the public.

The department also said that violating the executive order is a misdemeanor. If found guilty the judge can impose a fine.

“It’s possible that a court would impose a fine upon conviction. To get to that point, we would need to obtain a summons from a magistrate for the person to appear in court. If the court then found the person guilty, the judge could impose a fine,” Bowles said. “When we go to court over other issues, we usually are just trying to get the person to comply with regulations and often the court gives the person a time period to comply with a warning that failure to do so will result in a fine.”

Local Senator Steve Newman has made comments on Facebook about the new online complaint system. You can read his post here. 10 News also reached out to Newman for further comment but at the time of this article’s publication, he hadn’t responded.

Below is a list of citizen calls and complaints for the Central Virginia Health District, provided to 10 News by the Virginia Department of Health: