At Crazy Burger restaurant on Boon Street in Narragansett, manager Alex McBurney said staff always wears masks, sanitizing happens on a regular schedule — and a surprise state inspection left him with smiles.
“Everyone here is pretty safe. We haven’t had any scares,” said McBurney, whose business earned a place in good standing on the state’s recent show-up-and-check-without-warning enforcement campaign for COVID-19 cleaning and safeguards.
“Since we do a lot with hands-on with food, it’s gloves, gloves, gloves,” he said.
The state COVID-19 Enforcement Task Force roams Rhode Island weekly to visit businesses and organizations ranging from restaurants and liquor stores to dry cleaners and auto parts stores.
These inspections are intended to ensure owners and managers are following industry-specific COVID-19 requirements. Those failing — with none from Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown in mid-August — can face state sanctions, including shutdown of operations.
On some recent lists of more than 300 businesses in sectors such as retail, fitness and hospitality that received perfect scores on their COVID-19 compliance inspections, 54 were from the three-town area.
Those passing and failing can be found on the Department of Business Regulation’s website at https://dbr.ri.gov/decisions/decisions_task_force.php.
In Salon Bella on Main Street in South Kingstown, owner Nicole Walsh said she felt good about passing.
She’s so conscious of the requirements, she said, that she told the state inspector suddenly showing up to wait outside because one more person would put the salon over its 8-person limit of people allowed inside.
“I was doing someone’s hair and I said I’d be done in a few minutes. She (the inspector) waited outside for about 15 minutes and didn’t mind and very much understood,” Walsh said.
“I was so ready for that inspection, I couldn’t wait for them to come and for us to have that paper we passed,” she added.
In North Kingstown at Wickford Mini-Mart on Boston Neck Road, Assistant Manager Shani Simone said she was present when the inspector came.
Inspectors looked for social distancing markers, a cleaning schedule for surfaces, signs for masks and distancing, review of cleaning products and some other related tasks, she said.
“It was great. It’s a little nerve-wracking when they just suddenly come in. We’re a small store and it’s not a big deal to do all the work required. We’re always wiping down the flat surfaces and door handles,” she said.
Businesses can either receive a compliance order or an immediate compliance order, according to the state Department of Public Health.
An establishment that receives a compliance order can remain open, but will be re-inspected in 10 days to ensure it is meeting all health and safety requirements.
An establishment that receives an immediate compliance order must close because the violations documented represent an imminent threat to public health.
When a business is generally compliant with safety regulations, it can receive combination orders, which allow it to remain open, but require that specific areas be closed until the establishment can comply with all safety regulations.
Interstate Navigation was cited for several violations based on complaints from passengers.
Elizabeth Tanner, director of the state Department of Business Regulation, wrote a stern letter to Interstate, operators of the Block Island Ferry, in mid-April.
“Although we have had numerous conversations about the need to comply with all applicable Executive Orders and Emergency Regulations promulgated by the Rhode Island Department of Health, (RIDOH) the Department of Business Regulation continues to receive a disproportionately high volume of complaints about the ferry,” she said.
Social distancing, failure to wear masks and crowded ferries without passengers spread far enough apart were among the problems reported about Interstate.
William McCombe, director of security for the ferry, said this week that ferry operators have resolved the various issues that arose and continue to work with DBR on any complaints.
These orders can significantly hurt business both in the short- and long-term, since their public listing could deter customers from going to them, said business owners.
Nonetheless, most business owners said, inspections are important for keeping the public safe. Many said state inspectors don’t seem like they want to shut a business down.
“The thought is they are trying to keep everyone safe,” said Walsh of Salon Bella. McBurney from Crazy Burger said they also bring a knowledge about safety that some restaurants may not fully understand.
“When they come, they want you to do a good job and they teach you how to do it right,” he added.
Simone of Wickford Mini-Mart said inspections like these should be done all the time, not just because a pandemic presents health risks.
Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Enforcement Task Force is a collaboration between DOH and DBR.
Local business advocate Joseph Viele, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, said he felt that failures requiring immediate closure for public health reasons should be on a weekly list.
Other businesses given a compliance order may not need that public notice of failure to comply with state policies.
“There’s a fine line in sharing that information and being detrimental act to business,” he said.