Fairfax Co. business leader calls new virus regulations ‘PR move’

A business leader in Fairfax County, Virginia, said state officials were passing the buck with new regulations that threaten hefty fines if businesses do not follow rules related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The regulations, which were approved Wednesday by the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board, require regular cleanings of high-contact surfaces and mandate that all businesses impose social distancing measures.

Masks are required for employees who interact with customers and when social distancing measures can’t be maintained.

Virginia is the first state to impose such mandates on business owners.

“It appeared to me that the state was really shifting 100% of enforcement and regulation to businesses,” said Michael Amouri, owner of the Caffe Amouri coffee shop in Vienna.

Amouri is a former chairman and a current board member with the Vienna Business Association.

“It’s a burden on a lot of businesses, especially those businesses that are already doing things the right way,” Amouri said. “Most of the businesses that I’ve been in contact with have done an amazing job of implementing health and safety practices for their employees.”

Companies can potentially be fined more than $13,494 for a violation and more than $134,937 if they completely ignore the regulations.

Business groups said the new rules were an overreach.

“Perhaps some will feel pleased Virginia is the first to impose a statewide pandemic workplace mandate promoted by labor groups but ignoring the harm it will cause the state’s businesses is shortsighted,” Virginia Retail Federation lobbyist Jodi Roth said in a statement.

Amouri said he had concerns about a lack of clarity from state regulators as to how alleged violations would be reported and investigated. For instance, he had questions about whether a disgruntled employee could potentially voice an unwarranted complaint on social media, leading to a fine.

“It’s sort of this loosey-goosey enforcement that is all on the business owner,” Amouri said, calling the regulations a “PR move” by the state. “How can you fine a business if there’s no clear and concise path to enforcement?”

Under the regulations, employers must provide easy access to hand sanitizer or a hand washing station.

A business has 24 hours to notify its employees when someone who works there tests positive, and the employee who tests positive is not allowed to return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state implemented the rules due to a lack of federal guidelines on the issue.

“In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19,” Northam said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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