He says his bosses told workers: " 'Don’t use the main entrance, park in the side lot that’s not visible to the public. Don’t be outside for the time being. The people that smoke can even smoke on company grounds instead of on the sidewalk.' "
To protect his job, Ben doesn’t want to use his full name. He doesn’t think of company he works for as essential — it’s a website where people can sell used cars. “I expressed my concern about coming in,” Ben says, “but my email was never responded to.”
Cities and counties are scrambling to figure out how to handle complaints about non-essential businesses without overwhelming law enforcement. Sheriff's offices are using complaints to identify potential violators of the essential business directive. In some cases they are negotiating with businesses, in other cases they're issuing warnings or citations.
In San Jose, residents are being urged to call 311 if they see a business that should be closed. Santa Clara County has set up a hotline, (408) 792-2300, and an email address: email@example.com.
The Santa Clara County office has been flooded with calls and emails, which have led to the county investigating, warning and closing down places like a gaming arcade, a church and restaurants that are still serving sit-down meals.
Jeff Rosen is the District Attorney of Santa Clara County. “Conversations that we’re having with businesses or individuals about how they have to change their behavior are difficult,” Rosen says, “but conversations that we have to have with sons and daughters whose mothers or fathers have died because we as a community didn’t do everything we could to slow the spread of this pandemic? Those are impossible conversations.”
Absent comprehensive financial assistance from the federal government, businesses are in the same bind as individuals. There is intense economic pressure to continue operating as usual, even when doing so increases the chance that the virus will infect and kill more people.
Both Mara and Ben say they are luckily to have the resources not to work for the time being. But they worry about workers at non-essential businesses who don't have the same resources.