SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – Black Friday shopping, just like almost everything else in 2020, will look very different this year — no crowds, no late-night in-person sales and no camping out in front of stores before they open.

The statewide curfew for counties in California’s purple tier, the most restrictive in California’s tiered system to respond to the pandemic, requires retailers to close their doors from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and residents to shelter in place as well, with some exceptions such as for grocery stores.

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But Santa Clara County will also be stricter in enforcing capacity limits and social distancing protocols this weekend by suspending the grace period for fines starting on Thanksgiving and lasting until Sunday.

“Normally, when we go out and do compliance, we provide a grace period, we provide warnings. People know the rules by now,” County Counsel James Williams said. “With the rising number of cases and rising number of hospitalizations, we are suspending the grace period. We are serious about the enforcement and we will be out there proactively.”

Typically, businesses that don’t comply with COVID-19 protocols are given time to fix the mistake and be absolved of the fine. Now with the new policy, retailers or shopping centers that fail to adhere to safety protocols will receive a fine immediately and are required to pay.

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Fines start at $250 and can rise into the thousands for offending businesses. Businesses can also be fined multiple times for repeat violations.

“Things are not trending well right now. We need to come together as a community and one part of that is businesses very diligently adhering to these important safety rules,” Williams said. “We know holiday shopping is critical to our Santa Clara County businesses … if people are shopping in person, we want the experience to be as safe as possible for employees and the public.”

Some South Bay businesses have already firmly established their COVID-19 protocols.

“We just ask them to go ahead and use the sanitizer and greet them at the door,” said Carmen Nichols of Hicklebee’s Children’s Books in Willow Glen.

Customer can’t even walk into the store without an escort, as they are paying careful attention not to exceed 25 percent capacity.

“Yes we are,” Nichols explained. “We are following the county’s guidelines, making sure that we can accommodate our customers.”

“We are asking businesses to be absolutely diligent,” said Williams. “They need to be following the capacity limitations.”

The restrictions present a new challenge for some businesses during what ordinarily would be their busiest time of the year.

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“Well, we have a maximum capacity right now of 13, and we’re trying to adhere to that,” said Kathy Karnes, owner of Whatnots & Doodads.

Karnes has no problem with capacity limits. But she and other business owners do need enough holiday traffic to keep their businesses open though the end of the year.

“We do. We need people to come down and shop small businesses or you won’t have small businesses anymore,” said Karnes. “So yeah, we are concerned. If we get shut down again we’re in trouble.”

So the 2020 holiday shopping season begins, under the watchful eye county code enforcement.

“We have a whole crew of folks who go out, on site, and do inspections,” Williams said. “And where necessary issue fines.”

The state has seen a rise in case counts and hospitalizations and Santa Clara County has experienced similar trends. As of Monday, there were 512 new cases, three new deaths and 30 new hospitalizations in the county.

Williams said the grace period suspension is part of the county’s effort to “curb superspreading events” like Black Friday shopping and work to decrease COVID-19 rates locally.

The county’s public health enforcement team, which is made up of civilians, will be in bright-colored jackets at different shopping centers and stores to ensure business compliance.

Currently, grocery stores must limit capacity to 50 percent and retail stores and shopping centers have a 25 percent capacity limit.

“The primary issue we’re seeing right now is capacity limits,” said Michael Balliet, the county’s director of community and business engagement. “Business must maintain set limits inside their stores and strictly enforce face covering and social distancing. Additionally, customers should be looking for the orange checkmark sign in front to ensure a proper business plan has been approved.”

Williams recommended that residents shopping be patient and brace themselves for potentially long lines and wait times.

“Bring a chair, bring a book, bring something else to do. Maybe have a phone call with the family you weren’t able to gather with on Thanksgiving, but we have to prioritize the implementation of these safety protocols,” Williams said. “We cannot afford more cases; our families can’t afford that and in fact our businesses can’t afford that.”

Anyone wishing to report suspected violations can do so at sccCOVIDconcerns.org.

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