In total, 15 counties in the state have been told they should keep their bars closed.

By Mike Pomranz
June 29, 2020
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As shutdowns lift, the simple joy of grabbing a drink at a bar can make it easy to forget why watering holes were closed to begin with. But the reason—the COVID-19 pandemic—is still around. And across the country, some areas are reversing course as reopenings have coincided with increasing coronavirus cases. On Friday, the governors of both Texas and Florida revived restrictions on establishments serving alcohol. Then, yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom weighed in, ordering or recommending bars to shut across eleven counties.

As part of its COVID-19 response, California has maintained a “County Monitoring List” to track the progress of the disease. As the state’s Department of Public Health (CDPH) said in announcing the bar closures, “Counties that do not demonstrate substantial progress at 14 days are candidates for reinstituting community measures”—which includes reclosing bars which were first told they could reopen on June 12. Currently, five counties fall into that group: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, and Tulare. (Imperial and San Joaquin are also on the 14-day list, but never reopened bars in the first place.)

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Additionally, for any counties that have been on the list for at least three consecutive days, the CDPH recommends local officials “close bars through local health officer order.” Those counties are Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus, and Ventura. (Contra Costa and Santa Clara are also included in this group, but, again, never reopened bars to begin with.)

“California is using data and science to guide our response to COVID-19,” Sonia Angell, state public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health, said in the announcement. “We are actively monitoring COVID-19 across the state and working closely with counties where there are increased rates and concerning patterns of transmission. 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.”

As the CDPH explained, bars can be particularly troublesome for the spread of coronavirus: They’re inherently social, which increases intermingling of different people; alcohol consumption can reduce inhibitions, which in turn can reduce the use of face masks and social distancing; and bars tend to be loud, requiring “raised voices and greater projection of oral emitted viral droplets.” Not to mention that you can’t drink with a face mask on. Plus, many of these factors make “contact tracing”—attempting to see who an infected person has interacted with—extremely difficult.

“Californians must remain vigilant against this virus,” Newsom stated. “COVID-19 is still circulating in California, and in some parts of the state, growing stronger. 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.”

Under the new order, the CPHD explains, “Brewpubs, breweries, bars, and pubs, should close until those establishments are allowed to resume operation per state guidance and local permission, unless they are offering sit-down, dine-in meals.” In those cases, these establishments “should follow the dine-in restaurant guidance and should continue to encourage takeout and delivery service whenever possible.”

After the announcement, Los Angeles Mayer Eric Garcetti tweeted his support for the decision, writing, “As we started reopening more businesses, we cautioned that we may need to change course to protect public health from this deadly virus.”