SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — The Shiawassee County Health Department has received more than 100 complaints from area residents since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic about local businesses; most are related to employees either not wearing masks or wearing them improperly.
According to a Freedom of Information Act response, there were 105 total complaints received by the health department since March with Itsa Deli Thing in downtown Owosso named most often.
In March and April, approximately 15 complaints were received by the health department that complained of businesses being open in violation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s March 23 executive orders that forbade non-essential businesses from opening. Later, as executive orders changed multiple times, the type of complaints changed as well to focus on masks.
Shiawassee County Health Director Larry Johnson said the health department encourages residents to wear masks and practice social distancing. He would not comment on specific investigations or businesses.
“Our goal is to gain voluntary compliance,” Johnson said via email. “We realize how difficult it is for businesses right now and the health department is a resource for providing education on compliance with state health directives. The vast majority of facilities are compliant and want to do the right thing.”
According to the list of complaints provided, most resulted in health department employees speaking with business operators and reiterating the nature of state orders or reminding them about the correct ways to wear masks. Some complaints were referred to state officials for further action, however, what state action took place was not specified.
Owosso business Itsa Deli Thing has had seven complaints filed against it, more than any other local establishment — and about 7 percent of all complaints received by the health department.
Two complaints were filed in August, and were related to employees not wearing masks, being over capacity and tables not being situated 6 feet apart.
In November, five complaints about Itsa Deli Thing were filed with the health department. All concerned the dining room being open to customers, apparently in violation of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ current executive order that bans in-person dining.
The health department lists an “ongoing investigation” of Itsa Deli Thing.
A co-owner Monday declined to comment on why employees don’t wear masks.
Korner Pub and Cupcakes and Kisses, both in Owosso, each had four complaints filed against them.
The complaints about Korner Pub were related to being over capacity, and customers not wearing masks or social distancing in July and November.
Cupcakes and Kisses had complaints filed over employees not wearing masks or face coverings, and the business not having signage on doors reminding customers to wear masks and social distance.
The health department stated in the FOIA that the complaints have been referred to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), but do not indicate the current status.
Owosso barber Karl Manke had two complaints submitted about his opening in violation of Whitmer’s original executive orders. He received misdemeanor citations from Owosso police, which were later dismissed.
According to the complaint list, the health department referred the Manke complaint to Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Agency (LARA) and Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). All but one violation has been dismissed by an administrative law judge.
Manke’s refusal to shut down his barber shop attracted national attention during the early stages of the pandemic, with the septuagenarian openly challenging Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel’s authority to impose executive orders that shut down businesses across the state.
Wendy’s in Owosso had three complaints, all of which claimed employees and drive-thru staff were not wearing masks.
Stone House Farm, of Bancroft, had two complaints, one of which claimed it hosted a large wedding reception with more than 350 people and a buffet in late June.
Durand Senior Care and Rehab was the subject of two complaints, apparently from staff members, in April that expressed “concerns about how COVID-19 is being handled throughout the facility.” According to the health department, the complaint was passed on to LARA, but no further information was provided.
Some complaints came from business employees.
In one instance, an anonymous employee, who works for an “anonymous insulation company” filed a complaint with the health department on March 24.
“Caller (is) concerned about her place of employment still being open,” the complaint says. “Her company makes insulation and feels she is not essential. She is afraid of getting sick and is not sure who she can call to find out if they should be opened.”
According to the health department, the complainant said her employer stated “everyone is to report to work unless ill.” It is unclear whether the complaint was then submitted to state officials.