A customer last week exits and removes a mask at the 7-Eleven on Mishawaka Avenue in Mishawaka. 
Tribune Photo MICHAEL CATERINA
A customer last week exits and removes a mask at the 7-Eleven on Mishawaka Avenue in Mishawaka. Tribune Photo MICHAEL CATERINA

SOUTH BEND — St. Joseph County’s health department has found nearly 70 violations of its mask order among local businesses since May, revealing spotty compliance and confusion as officials lean toward extending it.

The county hasn’t yet moved to impose fines and has handled the violations so far by instructing store managers and owners on steps they can take to comply with the order.

The health department is now planning a new campaign, seeking input from businesses and residents, to publicly praise businesses that are taking the order seriously — while still holding out the possibility of imposing fines if mask use starts to dramatically decline.

Since the May 4 order took effect, the health department has found businesses in the county violating it 69 times — during 37 inspections triggered by customer complaints and 32 more during routine food service inspections, according to records The Tribune obtained through a public records request.

“I’m a little worried that there’s been a decay in compliance in St. Joseph County,” said Dr. Mark Fox, the county’s deputy health officer.

The health department validated 10 complaints during the week of June 14-20, compared to an average of 5.4 per week over the prior five weeks, according to the records.

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