Customers sit in the outdoor seating at the Fire Up Bar & Grill in downtown Riverside on June 11, 2020 in Riverside, California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered seven counties to immediately close any bars and nightspots that are open and recommended eight other counties take action on their own to close those businesses, citing the rapid pace of coronavirus spread. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Newsom orders bars closed in 7 California counties including LA due to coronavirus spread

By John Myers and Laura Newberry

Los Angeles Times

Citing the rapid pace of coronavirus spread in some parts of California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered seven counties including Los Angeles immediately to close any bars and nightspots that are open and recommended eight other counties take action on their own to close those businesses.

The decision, a sign of growing concern about new COVID-19 cases, was announced in a statement issued by the governor’s state public health director, Dr. Sonia Angell. Bars in seven counties are immediately affected by the state order: Los Angeles, Fresno, Kern, San Joaquin, Tulare, Kings and Imperial.

Eight other counties have been asked by state officials to issue local health orders closing bars: Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Sacramento, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Stanislaus.

“COVID-19 is still circulating in California, and in some parts of the state, growing stronger,” Newsom said in a written statement. “That’s why it is critical we take this step to limit the spread of the virus in the counties that are seeing the biggest increases.”

Although bars are not currently open in four of the counties _ Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Joaquin and Imperial _ the action cites local health data that should keep those establishments closed, state officials said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote in a tweet that he supported the governor’s order.

“As we started reopening more businesses, we cautioned that we may need to change course to protect public health from this deadly virus,” Garcetti wrote.

Los Angeles County public health officials on Sunday reported 2,542 more cases of COVID-19, the county’s second-highest daily total of new cases since the pandemic began.

The list of counties affected by Sunday’s order was based on daily reports on the spread of the virus, state officials said. Counties that have been on the state’s watch list for three to 14 days are being asked to close bars. Those counties being ordered to close the local businesses have been on the state’s watch list for more than 14 days.

“We are actively monitoring COVID-19 across the state and working closely with counties where there are increased rates and concerning patterns of transmission,” Angell said in a written statement. “Closing bars in these counties is one of a number of targeted actions counties are implementing across our state to slow the virus’ spread and reduce risk.”

The decision was based, according to state public health officials, on data related to COVID-19 cases, hospitalization rates and what they describe as concerning patterns of transmission in those counties. State health guidelines for reopening bars were issued June 5, with the businesses allowed to reopen as early as June 18.

Sunday’s action, however, shows that some of the counties meeting the original standard have reported worsening conditions as the days went on.

Businesses impacted by the close-down action include any bar, brewery or pub that sells alcoholic drinks without also selling food at the same time. Those that do sell food will be subject either to the stricter dine-in rules or asked to focus on takeout service.

Bars, state health officials said, often operate with larger crowds who remove masks more frequently to drink and where loud music may force customers to raise their voices _ potentially spreading more airborne particles. Contact tracing, needed to determine who an infected person has been around, is harder when it comes to these establishments given the constant mixing of customers.

Sunset Beer in L.A.’s Echo Park just reopened its bottle shop Friday to a limited number of customers. Its owners did not immediately open the bar, where patrons can lounge and sip craft brews for a corkage fee, saying in an Instagram post that they hoped to work their “way to that point carefully and safely.”

After Newsom announced his order Sunday, Sunset Beer informed customers that the business would again cease in-person shopping and revert back to a web-based ordering and pickup system.

“Everybody has been so pleasant and understanding that it’s hard to believe that we are all still under quite a bit of stress due to all of this … ” the Instagram post said. “We remain optimistic for the future _ it may be awhile (sic) before we can get back to normal but we hope everyone will work together and look out for each other so that we can get there SOON.”

The decision by Newsom stands in contrast to recent decisions to leave more of the decision-making authority to local officials. The governor has said it is possible additional sectors of the state may need to scale back on openings, but has been hesitant to make those decisions in Sacramento.

Earlier this month, the governor ordered all Californians to wear face masks while in public or high-risk settings.

The alarm over the rising case numbers extends across California, where statewide cases topped 211,000. Hospitalizations and infection rates are also rising, and officials cite several likely factors including reopenings, people having private social gatherings, and the recent protests over George Floyd’s death while in police custody.

Some officials are cracking down on scofflaw businesses while others are preparing to help overwhelmed hospitals.

On Friday Newsom said he was recommending that Imperial County reinstitute stricter stay-at-home orders, after it continued to report the highest per-capita case rate of any county in the state, as well as the highest rate of positive tests.

The county Board of Supervisors took no immediate action to direct businesses to shut down, but local officials met with a state delegation Saturday to decide how to proceed.

In San Bernardino County, officials said that many hospitals are getting closer to reaching “surge capacity” and that they are making plans to open alternate care sites for patients if hospitals fill up.

In San Diego County, the health department Friday ordered an Escondido restaurant to close immediately, saying its proprietor refused to follow public health directives imposed to prevent coronavirus outbreaks. And Belmont Park, an amusement park in Mission Bay, was closed Friday afternoon by officials who said it was operating rides in violation of state guidelines. The shutdown came on the same day county officials announced the highest number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in a single day.

Another day of big increases in Los Angeles County coronavirus cases and hospitalizations prompted health officials Saturday to warn that Los Angeles County is entering a “critical moment” and that some of the easing of stay-at-home orders is in jeopardy unless the trend changes.

“If we can’t find it in us to follow these mandates, including wearing face coverings and distancing when around others, we jeopardize our ability to move forward on the recovery journey,” Barbara Ferrer, the county health director, said Saturday in a statement. “Our collective responsibility is to take immediate action, as individuals and businesses, to reverse the trends we are experiencing.”

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