Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered bars to close in seven counties Sunday due to the rising spread of the coronavirus, while also recommending that bars close in Santa Barbara County, among others.
According to the governor, the bar closures are required in Los Angeles, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin and Tulare counties.
The closures are recommended for Santa Barbara, Ventura, Sacramento, Contra Costa, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus counties.
“COVID-19 is still circulating in California, and in some parts of the state, growing stronger,” Gov. 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.”
The closures are mandated in the counties that have been on the state’s watch list for more than two weeks. The counties that Gov. Newsom recommended bar closures have been on the watch list for at least three days, but not a full two weeks.
According to the state Department of Public Health, Santa Barbara County has been on the watch list for 13 days.
“Santa Barbara County may be mandated to issue a health officer order to close bars given the rising case count locally. The County Health Officer is strongly considering options to address these concerns,” said Jackie Ruiz, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
According to the order, brewpubs, breweries, bars and pubs are asked to close unless they are offering sit-down or dine-in meals. Wineries and tasting rooms are not included in the recommendation. The county Public Health Department is continuing to track local metrics and is expected to have further updates on the state’s recommendation in the coming days.
“According to CDPH, bars are social environments where groups of people mix,” Ms. Ruiz said. “In these environments, alcohol consumption reduces inhibition and impairs judgment, leading to reduced compliance with recommended core personal protective measures, such as the mandatory use of face coverings and the practice of social and physical distancing. Bars are generally louder environments requiring raised voices leading to the greater projection of droplets. These factors present a higher likelihood of transmission of COVID-19 within groups, between groups, and among the workforce.”
Dr. Henning Ansorg, health officer for the county, said the state’s recommendation comes at “a critical time.”
“I implore all community members to adhere to strict physical distancing at all times and avoid gatherings. Until there is a vaccine, the use of face coverings in conjunction with physical distancing is the most effective way to stop the spread of this virus,” Dr. Ansorg said in a statement. “The State’s recommendation comes at a critical time. There is still an opportunity to make a difference in the course of this pandemic, but we must all recommit to this effort.”
According to the county data submitted to the state, the county reported an additional 47 COVID-19 cases this weekend, bringing the overall total to 2,831 cases.
According to the state data, 60 patients are being treated at local hospitals, including 21 in the Intensive Care Unit. Five suspected COVID-19 patients are also being treated at the hospital, with one in the ICU.
The data shows that one patient was receiving care at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, 16 were being treated at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and 43 were being treated at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.
The News-Press spoke with several bar owners Sunday for their reaction to Gov. Newsom’s order.
“We followed the news, so we knew this was coming,” said James Rafferty, owner of The Press Room, at 15 E. Ortega St. “We’ve been here for 25 years and we never closed a day until this. Christmas, New Years, we were always open. After two weeks we were just starting to make back what we lost.
“We invested in a patio and we’re following all the guidelines. Unfortunately people don’t believe the science, they don’t want to wear masks, and this is what happens.”
Dan Baham, owner of O’Malley’s Bar, at 523 State St., told the News-Press he is making less money and losing more sleep than ever before due to the increased health protocols.
“I really hope they don’t put any more stress on us,” he said. “We want to stay open, but we want to do it the right way, so nobody gets sick. We invested a lot in the patio, the sanitary stations. Look at the floor. It took me hours to get it that spotless.
“We haven’t been perfect but we’re social distancing and we’re keeping things clean.”
The patrons at O’Malley’s are frequent visitors and staff has asked them to head to a table to hold conversations rather than crowding the bar area, which is protected by plexiglass.
“That’s kind of what you do, you lean over on the bar, you order, and you talk,” Mr. Baham said. “That could potentially expose someone, so we have a barrier between the bartender and the guest when they order.”
Thomas Byrne, who owns The James Joyce Irish pub, at 513 State St., said the new patios installed have been “wonderful for business and wonderful for the city,” but said that health and safety should come first.
“We’re just waiting for a final decision essentially,” he explained. “Everything is kind of in limbo at the moment until we get that final decision. We did put some time, effort and money into reopening. We can’t just reopen at the flip of a switch. It’s not as easy as opening an insurance office. You’re opening a bar, you’re dealing with a different set of requirements. We’ll comply with what’s necessary.
“We’ll do what we’re required to do by the health department and the governor. It would be disappointing, but what can you do?”
The past few months have certainly been uncharted territory for many eateries and bars throughout the country, and the local impact has been no exception.
“This is so tough, we’ve never been here before, right?” John Nasser, owner of Night Lizard Brewing Company at 607 State St., told the News-Press. “I would hope that we don’t close. We’re trying to practice social distancing, but when you’re out at a restaurant or a bar you’ve got your mask on. It’s tough, we just reopened after being closed and everyone’s been struggling.”
News-Press Staff Writer Paul Gonzalez also contributed to this report.