Restaurant flagged for violating mask requirements by state health department
Published 3:01 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2021
After receiving multiple complaints alleging that Harmanco’s restaurant was not adhering to proper COVID-19 mask requirements set by Gov. Roy Cooper, the state Department of Health and Human Services last week sent a letter to the restaurant, giving it seven days to adhere to the provisions.
“This letter is to notify Harmanco’s Restaurant that we have been made aware of complaints regarding non-compliance with applicable face covering requirement(s),” the DHHS letter, sent by Assistant Secretary for Public Health Mark Benton on Jan. 12, said.
The Stanly News & Press has reached out to DHHS about how many complaints it received and if complaints have been filed about other businesses, but hasn’t gotten a reply as of the publishing time for this story.
The letter notes that the complaints centered around employees at the restaurant, located in Albemarle, not wearing face coverings. The owners of Harmanco’s, Kevin and Jamie Limer, had seven days to sign an attestation letter agreeing to adhere to Cooper’s face covering requirements. As of Tuesday, neither owner had signed the form.
In addition to being sent to the Limers, who took over the restaurant in 2019, a copy of the letter was sent to County Manager Andy Lucas, Stanly County Health Director David Jenkins and Albemarle Police Chief David Dulin.
When asked about the DHHS letter Tuesday, Jamie Limer said due to taking a few days off last week, she and her husband were not aware of the letter.
She said some of her staff do not wear face coverings because they have medical conditions exempting them from the requirements. She said they have doctor’s notes on file.
Limer, who also doesn’t wear face coverings, said she is claustrophobic and couldn’t breathe when she initially put on a mask. She also has a doctor’s note. Her husband Jamie, who has asthma, also does not wear a mask.
“The ones that have a note from their doctor, I do not make them wear masks because that’s against the Americans with Disabilities Act and I could get in trouble with HIPPA,” Limer said.
Cooper’s executive orders do grant exemptions for people with “any medical or behavioral condition or disability,” which includes trouble breathing.
Employees who do not have any medical conditions are required to wear masks, Limer said. In addition, tables are cleaned once customers leave and the restaurants tries its best to make sure patrons are seated six feet apart from others.
As someone who previously worked at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, Limer said she was told that “masks are very dangerous” and they can cause “long-term lung damage.”
Jenkins told the SNAP that the health department had received at least a half dozen complaints from patrons, including a new one Wednesday, about the lack of face coverings at the restaurant. The department sent a letter to the restaurant informing them about the complaints and environmental health staff visited on at least two occasions.
After Limer emailed the health department over her concerns with wearing masks a few weeks ago, Jenkins suggested having staff members wear face shields instead — which could provide some comfort to worried patrons, but he said he hasn’t received a reply.
Jenkins said he did not know of any other county businesses that had received letters from the state due to violating COVID-19 restrictions, though the health department had sent letters to other businesses.
Limer said she doesn’t require customers to wear masks because it would be against the ADA.
“I cannot ask them what their medical conditions is,” she said.
While businesses have the obligation to inquire as to why customers aren’t wearing masks, if it’s due to medical reasons, nothing more can be done and no proof is needed, Jenkins said.
“That’s the loophole in this,” Jenkins added. “That’s the out for most people who are just anti-mask.”
Jenkins mentioned that Alcohol Law Enforcement, the lead enforcement agency for the state’s alcoholic beverage control, has been involved after also receiving complaints.
Mark Lesassier, ALE assistant special agent in charge, said officers visited the restaurant last week and saw unmasked employees. He said no doctor’s notes were filed through the health department or any other agency stipulating the employees were medically exempt.
“People in Stanly County were concerned so that’s why they contacted us and the health department,” Lesassier said, adding that it’s still an active case with ALE.
While he understands certain individuals have medical exemptions that preclude them from wearing masks, Jenkins said the health department is trying to look out for the health and safety of all county residents, especially with cases on the rise in Stanly and across the state.
“All we’re trying to do is come to some kind of compromise where they can continue their operations and protect public health,” Jenkins said.
He noted that the many complaints the health department has received has taken time away from their efforts to vaccinate the public.
Limer said she doesn’t think the restaurant has done anything wrong and will be taking up the issue with DHHS.
The DHHS letter mentions that violating any provision of the Governor’s Executive Order is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
“We plan to continue monitoring Harmanco’s Restaurant for compliance,” the letter said. If the restaurant fails to cooperate and abide by the restrictions, there may “result in further actions such as issuance of an imminent hazard abatement order or referral to law enforcement.”