Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered bars to close in seven California counties Sunday because of escalating coronavirus rates, and recommended closures in eight others, including Sacramento.
Bar closures are required in Los Angeles, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin and Tulare.
Bar closures are recommended for Sacramento, Contra Costa, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and Ventura.
Newsom is mandating closures in counties that have been on the state’s COVID-19 watch list for more than two weeks. He is recommending, but not requiring, closures in counties that have been on the watch list for at least three days but not a full two weeks.
“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.”
Sacramento health officials, who have expressed concerns about lack of social distancing in bars, said Sunday they will consider the governor’s request and decide likely Monday.
Newsom allowed bars to begin reopening in most counties on June 12. The California Department of Public Health, however, identifies bars as “the highest risk sector of non-essential business currently open,” according to a press release. Bars often have many groups of people mixing, and alcohol consumption can impair bar-goers’ judgment and cause them to ignore social distancing precautions, such as staying 6 feet from one another and wearing masks. Bars also tend to be loud, causing people to raise their voices and spray more respiratory droplets into the air, according to the department.
The guidance on closing bars released Sunday by the department does not distinguish between indoor and outdoor bars.
In Sacramento, health officials echoed the concerns raised by the Newsom administration. Sacramento County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson last week told The Sacramento Bee he was concerned about the possibility of virus spread in bars.
Beilenson said patrons are less likely to practice social distancing in bars, especially after they have had a few drinks.
“In general, businesses are behaving quite well, with the exception of bars, where there is lack of social distancing, especially as people get inebriated,” Beilenson said.
Sacramento County spokeswoman Kimberly Nava on Sunday said local health officials are discussing the possibility of ordering bars to close.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in California have been increasing for weeks, along with the state’s rate of people who test positive for the virus. On Friday, Newsom announced that 5.7 percent of the state’s COVID-19 tests over the last week had come back positive.
More than 206,000 Californians have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the outbreak, according to the Department of Public Health. More than 5,800 have died.
On Friday, Newsom said the numbers in Imperial County have been particularly alarming and have overwhelmed the region’s hospitals. Newsom said state and local health officials were working to shut the county back down and return to more strict stay-at-home rules. In Imperial, 23 percent of tests have come back positive for the virus.
Of the 15 counties noted on Sunday by Newsom for bar closures or potential closures, four have not yet allowed bars to reopen: Contra Costa, Imperial, San Joaquin and Santa Clara.