I-TEAM: Where’s the enforcement for violating COVID-19 health orders?

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — City leaders in Cleveland have promised to crack down on people violating health orders tied to COVID-19, but we’ve heard this before.

So, I-TEAM reporter Ed Gallek took hard questions to Mayor Frank Jackson.

Friday, officials held a news conference and warned that health inspectors and police will be getting more aggressive dealing with people breaking the rules for masks, crowds and more.

But, the I-TEAM asked Mayor Jackson why it has taken until now to get aggressive.

“You’re making an assumption that we have not been enforcing and we have,” said Mayor Jackson.

The mayor pointed out that the city has been getting complaints and following up on those.

Yet, time and again, since the spring, we’ve filed a request asking for records of people and businesses cited by the city for violating health orders. The city even put new rules in place for wearing a mask, threatened fines, but, the city has never given us any record of anyone cited for mask rules.

We have seen a few bars and restaurants cited or given warnings for violating orders. But, overall, officials have produced very little evidence of enforcement action.

We pointed out to the mayor that the records keep coming back to no action. To that he said, “It is an assumption. But, I can understand why you’re making it.”

Mayor Jackson argues the city would rather get people to follow the rules without writing a ticket or filing a charge.

Meantime, the I-TEAM revealed earlier that the city health department is short-staffed. The department has even been using untrained workers from a temp agency to trace COVID-19 cases.

Jackson says City Hall is also addressing that. “And the hiring process is in motion to bring on people for the vacancies,” he said.

This comes as many of you are calling hotlines to report people not wearing a mask or breaking other health rules related to COVID-19.

Recent recordings obtained by the I-TEAM show one man saying, “I’m surrounded by people with no mask.”

And, another said, “They won’t let me wear a mask in the store.”

While a woman reported a problem saying, “There’s no social distancing. Almost had a panic attack.”

In addition to the city promising more enforcement action, this week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine also announced a new unit aimed at investigating retail stores where customers are not wearing masks. That effort is just about to get underway.

Finally, we also checked with three area county health departments. They all said they’ve followed up on complaints about health order violations by sending letters, making visits or issuing warnings. But, all three of those health departments say they have not issued any citations for violations.

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