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Bars to close Wednesday as county responds to local COVID-19 surge


Read the full article by Paul Sisson, Lori Weisberg and Pam Kragen in the San Diego Union-Tribune here.

Just 17 days after they were allowed to reopen on June 12, San Diego County bars, breweries and wineries learned Monday that they will not be allowed to operate, at least not in the traditional sense, starting Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. While restaurants will still be allowed to serve drinks with meals, no one will be allowed to stand around with drinks in their hands after the stroke of midnight Tuesday.

Announced Monday afternoon by county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the decision follows a mandate from Gov. Gavin Newsom, released over the weekend, that asks bars to close in some California counties due to increasing rates of novel coronavirus transmission.

San Diego, though, is not on that list. But Fletcher, backed up by Dr. Wilma Wooten, the region’s public health officer, said it does not make sense to wait, given that local COVID-19 trend lines, though currently less severe than they are in other places, have been headed in the wrong direction for about a week now. Bars, he said, tend to encourage the kind of socializing that makes it easier to spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“While San Diego County was not included in actions taken by the state, we believe it is appropriate, and we believe it is wise, for us to take this action now, given the increases we’ve seen in cases, in percentage of positive cases, in outbreaks and the increases in hospitalizations,” Fletcher said. “We don’t want to wait to be forced to take an action when we know it is the wise and responsible thing for us to do now.”

On Monday, the county announced 498 new COVID cases, a single-day record and one more than was announced Sunday. Only one of the past seven single-day totals has been under 300 cases, and, more worrisome, the number of hospitalized COVID cases continues to climb, reaching 458 Sunday, significantly higher than the 346 hospitalizations tallied a week ago. The number of local COVID-associated deaths held steady at 361.

Air Conditioned Lounge owner Gary John Collins, though, said he was not surprised.

“When the governor did it yesterday for L.A. County, I thought, ‘we’re next.’” Collins said. “A lot of people are ignoring the guidelines and here we are.”

“I guess what’s happened is we’ve taken one step back,” added Skip Coomber, co-founder of Coomber Craft Wines in Oceanside. “It’s awkward and it’s frustrating, but I understand and respect what they’re doing.”

But, just because the county has ordered all bars to shut down does not necessarily mean that no one will be walking through their doors come Wednesday.

Establishments with licenses to serve food can do so, and alcohol can also be on the menu, though, added Mike Workman in an email Monday evening, both food and drink must be purchased together as part of the “same transaction.” It’s clear that, while the county is specifically forbidding anyone from standing around and having a drink, establishments may still serve customers while seated.