LAKEVIEW, Ore. — The only stand-alone pharmacy in the south-central Oregon town of Lakeview faces a proposed fine of $9,400 for alleged violations of the state's coronavirus restrictions — namely, face covering and social distancing requirements.
Oregon OSHA said that inspectors observed both customer and worker interactions inside and outside of Howard's Pharmacy, with the store "refusing to provide health hazard control measures" to protect about nine employees from COVID-19 exposure.
"The control measures that could have been provided – but were not – included implementing physical distancing and ensuring employees and customers wear face coverings," OSHA said.
OSHA said that it tried to work with Howard's for a week, but eventually posted a Red Warning Notice because the owners refused to comply. The agency's Red Warning Notices are supposed to act as a mandated closure of the business until willful violations have ended.
At that point, OSHA said that Howard's went to curbside pickup for their customers, but still without face coverings when social distancing couldn't be maintained.
Now OSHA says that it is proposing a total fine of $9,400 for Howard's — $8,900 for the "willful violation" of health hazard controls, and $500 for continuing to operate after the Red Warning Notice.
Supporters of Howard's Pharmacy posted a GoFundMe after it received the Red Warning Notice and went curbside, looking to help the owners pay fines and legal fees while fighting OSHA's orders.
A statement on the GoFundMe, ostensibly from the owners of Howard's, claims that the pharmacy's unwillingness to follow the state mandates stems from their interpretation of Oregon Health Authority's guidance.
"It specifically states that those who cannot wear any of the required coverings can request an accommodation that enables 'full and equal access' to the 'services' and 'facilities,'" Howard's wrote. "There is only one way to be compliant with this: there can be no difference in access between those who cannot wear a mask and those who can. Any variation would no longer be 'full and equal' but rather 'partial and unequal.'"
The standing interpretation from state officials on this mandate has been that customers who cannot or will not wear a face covering or observe social distancing be provided with curbside pickup, which Howard's adopted for all customers after receiving the Red Warning Notice.
The latest update from Howard's, posted to the GoFundMe on September 12, indicated that they had received the formal citation from OSHA, and had engaged an attorney to help appeal the decision.
Lake County featured on Oregon's COVID-19 county "watch list" for just over a month, beginning in early July, after a rise in community spread cases. It was removed in August, and has seen only 29 confirmed cases in total — with no new cases since August began.
Howard's is far from the only business to receive a hefty fine for alleged COVID-19 violations. OSHA listed at least 19 other businesses cited since March, with fines ranging from $8,900 to $14,000. Among them were Masterbrand Cabinets in Grants Pass, and Central Point agricultural operations Kelli Bieber and Gold Standard Investment Group LLC.