Shut­down: 7 coun­ties where coro­n­avirus is spik­ing told pubs can’t serve cus­tomers

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Alexei Kos­eff, Matt Kawa­hara and Matthias Gafni

SACRA­MENTO — Gov. Gavin New­som or­dered seven Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties where the coro­n­avirus is spread­ing rapidly to close their bars Sunday.

He also rec­om­mended but did not re­quire that bars close or re­main shut­tered in eight other coun­ties, in­clud­ing Santa Clara and Con­tra Costa in the Bay Area.

“Cal­i­for­ni­ans must re­main vig­i­lant against this virus,” New­som said in a state­ment. “COVID­19 is still cir­cu­lat­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, and in some parts of the state, grow­ing stronger. That’s why it is crit­i­cal we take this step.”

The Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health has been mon­i­tor­ing the seven coun­ties where bars were or­dered closed — Fresno, Im­pe­rial, Kern, Kings, Los An­ge­les, San Joaquin and Tu­lare — for grow­ing com­mu­nity spread of the coro­n­avirus. Each has re­ported a high rate of new in­fec­tions, pos­i­tive tests or in­creas­ing hos­pi­tal­iza­tions for at least 14 con­sec­u­tive days.

The or­der ap­plies to bars, brew­eries and pubs that do not serve sit­down meals. At dinein restau­rants with bars, al­co­hol can only be sold with a meal. Venues with per­mis­sion to sell take­out drinks can con­tinue to offer curb­side ser­vice.

Bars can present a par­tic­u­lar risk for coro­n­avirus spread, health ex­perts say, due to small set­tings that en­cour­age talk­ing and so­cial­iz­ing in close contact.

“Peo­ple are eat­ing and drink­ing, and it’s a very so­cial place,” said Warner Greene, a se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor with the Glad­stone In­sti­tutes. “And I sus­pect what’s hap­pen­ing is peo­ple are los­ing their so­cial dis­tanc­ing, not wear­ing masks be­cause they’re drink­ing or eat­ing. So that along with the al­co­hol and the gen­eral loss of in­hi­bi­tions leads to a kind of a higher­risk sit­u­a­tion.

“When peo­ple are talk­ing to each other and they’re drink­ing so they’re not masked and they’re go­ing to be closer than 6 feet, that’s ex­actly the con­di­tions that the coro­n­avirus thrives in.”

Cal­i­for­nia first al­lowed bars to re­open June 12, leav­ing the de­ci­sion to county health of­fi­cers.

Im­pe­rial and San Joaquin had not yet re­opened their bars, ac­cord­ing to state health of­fi­cials. On Fri­day, New­som or­dered Im­pe­rial County, whose ru­ral health sys­tem is be­ing over­whelmed by new coro­n­avirus cases, to re­in­sti­tute a stayat­home or­der, the first step he had taken to tog­gle back on Cal­i­for­nia’s re­open­ing over the past month.

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials cited bars as a lo­ca­tion where al­co­hol con­sump­tion im­pairs judg­ment, lead­ing to less com­pli­ance with safety mea­sures such as so­cial dis­tanc­ing and wear­ing face cov­er­ings. They also said the loud en­vi­ron­ment forces peo­ple to raise their voices, spew­ing more droplets that can carry the coro­n­avirus, and that the mix­ing of crowds make contact trac­ing more dif­fi­cult.

“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,” Dr. So­nia An­gell, the state pub­lic health of­fi­cer, said in a state­ment.

Across the coun­try, bars are be­ing treated with cau­tion. Texas and Florida, where the num­ber of new coro­n­avirus cases has been spik­ing, took steps Fri­day to close bars statewide to reg­u­lar ser­vice. In states such as Con­necti­cut, Ken­tucky and Mas­sachusetts, restau­rants have been al­lowed to re­sume ser­vices as bars re­main shut­tered. San Francisco was poised to al­low out­door bars to re­open Mon­day be­fore city of­fi­cials an­nounced Fri­day they would de­lay the re­open­ing of bars and busi­nesses like hair sa­lons, nail sa­lons and zoos fol­low­ing a spike in coro­n­avirus cases.

Pa­trons at both restau­rants and bars are un­likely to wear masks while eat­ing and drink­ing, but where restau­rants can space ta­bles apart, bars are of­ten more crowded.

“Ba­si­cally, the risk of trans­mis­sion is a func­tion of dis­tance, time and con­cen­tra­tion,” said Dr. Robert Siegel, an in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert at Stan­ford. “In set­tings where peo­ple are closer or there for a longer pe­riod of time or, for in­stance, talk­ing or laugh­ing or singing, they’re more likely to put virus into the air.

“We’ve talked about 6 feet, but it ac­tu­ally de­pends on how long you’re in prox­im­ity with some­body else. Six feet out­side car­ries much less risk of trans­mis­sion than 6 feet in­side. Six feet in­side wear­ing a mask car­ries less risk than 6 feet in­side where peo­ple are singing.”

The eight coun­ties where New­som rec­om­mended but did not re­quire bar clo­sures have been on the state watch list for three to 14 con­sec­u­tive days. Be­sides Santa Clara and Con­tra Costa, nei­ther of which has given bars per­mis­sion to re­open yet, they are River­side, Sacra­mento, San Bernardino, Santa Bar­bara, Stanis­laus and Ven­tura coun­ties.

Santa Clara County’s health de­part­ment said: “We are re­view­ing the gov­er­nor's tweet and cor­re­spond­ing news re­lease, which just came out. Our ini­tial com­ment is that bars are not per­mit­ted to op­er­ate presently.”

Since June 5, Santa Clara County has al­lowed restau­rants to open but has kept bars closed. It has no sched­uled date for bars (with no sit­down food ser­vice) to re­open.

In Con­tra Costa County, bars had been sched­uled to re­open on July 1, along with in­door din­ing, gyms, ho­tels and some other ser­vices.

On Mon­day, county health of­fi­cials will be re­view­ing week­end coro­n­avirus numbers to de­ter­mine whether they should ad­just the sched­uled July 1 re­open­ings, par­tic­u­larly of bars, said county Board of Su­per­vi­sors chair­woman Can­dace An­der­sen.

“We are con­cerned be­cause we’re see­ing an in­crease in hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and our pos­i­tiv­ity rate,” An­der­sen said.

Hos­pi­tal­iza­tions have reached 42 this week­end, she said, and the pos­i­tiv­ity rate, mean­ing the per­cent of peo­ple test­ing pos­i­tive out of tests ad­min­is­tered, climbed to 4.7%.

Con­tra Costa County has seen hot spots in West County ar­eas, such as Rich­mond and San Pablo, lead­ing of­fi­cials to start fur­ther out­reach, An­der­sen said.

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