Shutdown: 7 counties where coronavirus is surging told pubs risky for public health
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 be sold only 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.