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Your favorite gathering places are reopening today: Here’s what to expect

A jogger heads south on Fifth Avenue crossing University in Hillcrest on Friday, April 3, 2020.
(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

As bars, hotels, gyms and movie theaters reopen, these are the rules in place to safeguard the public

After almost three long and lonely months, San Diego County residents are legally cleared to meet their friends for a drink, take a date to a museum or the zoo, visit a campground with the family and hit the gym to work off those quarantine pounds.

Today marks the biggest reopening since county health officials began shutting down businesses and events in mid-March to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and it marks a return to some of the most-missed social connections and activities.

But the slow return to normalcy does not mean things are quite normal. Many institutions will not be ready to open today. When they do, expect to make a reservation for the gym or a museum, don’t expect to see any animal acts at the zoo, and you might have your temperature checked when you enter many places, including some that are going to seem rather empty because of new capacity restrictions.

You also won’t be able to belly up to the bar for a long chat with a mixologist, and forget about karaoke night. But don’t forget your facial covering.

Friends begin with a toast before dinner at One Door North restaurant in North Park on Friday.
Friends begin with a toast before dinner at One Door North restaurant in North Park on Friday, May 29. 2020.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Health officials have credited San Diego County residents with preventing a surge in COVID-19 cases by wearing masks and following other safety guidelines, such as social distancing, and as a reward the county already has reopened beaches, parks, barber shops and restaurants.

Enjoy it while you can. County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said Wednesday that officials will be monitoring 13 triggers that could lead to amending orders about business restrictions. Triggers include an increase in outbreaks, and Wooten said she anticipates COVID-19 cases will increase as businesses re-open and activities resumes.

She urged people to follow all safety procedures to avoid outbreaks that would trigger a return to restrictions that have been lifted.

Bars and wineries

The same rules that have been in effect for dining in at restaurants also apply to bars, which up until now have not been allowed to be open unless they serve food.

Capacity will be much reduced because of social distancing rules that require six feet separation between customers who are not from the same party or household unit. Drinking establishments will have to discontinue seating customers at bar counters where they cannot maintain at least six feet of distance from employee work areas and other customers. Open seating is also not permitted.

Guidelines advise bar owners to provide menus via low-touch methods, including disposable paper menus and digital menus that customers can view on a personal device.

Geovani Droege, bar manager at Bleu Boheme.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

For winery tasting rooms, a clean glass should be provided for each tasting and, if possible, wine should not be poured into a glass that a customer has already used. The use of communal dump buckets should be discontinued.

For now, activities that encourage mingling and shared items are prohibited, like karaoke singing, open mike performances, and trivia and drinking games. Dance floors are to be closed and musical performances are not permitted.

Gyms and fitness facilities

Gyms will be required to follow an extensive list of rules in order to keep facilities clean, patrons spaced out, and interactions limited between everyone in the building.

Staff members may be behind sneeze-guard barriers, while members are discouraged from shaking hands or “bumping fists.”

Some of the state’s rules seem more concrete than others. For example, patrons must be temperature checked upon arrival, and employees must at self-check at home before their shifts begin. Boosted sanitation rules and physical distancing of machines are also required.

Employee Audry Andrade cleans treadmill machines at Chuze Fitness in Chula Vista
Employee Audry Andrade cleans treadmill machines at Chuze Fitness in Chula Vista on Thursday, June 11, 2020. The gym plans on opening Saturday with special conditions due to the COVID-19 virus.
(Sandy Huffaker/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Other state guidelines appear to be optional but encouraged. California’s industry guidance, for example, “highly recommends” that patrons wear masks when entering or leaving the facility, and patrons “should consider” wearing them during workouts, particularly where physical distancing isn’t possible. Currently, however, San Diego County’s mandate to wear facial coverings in public trumps this flexibility.

Patrons are asked to disinfect their own machines before and after use. Guidelines suggest staffers set up a check-out system for accessories such as mats and foam rollers, disinfecting them upon return.

Basketball and other high-contact sports cannot be played unless all members are part of the same household.

Gym operators are encouraged to create a reservation system for patrons, calling each 24 hours in advance to confirm the member doesn’t have COVID-19 symptoms. Fitness facilities will also have caps on capacity, depending on the size of the facility and the ability to physically distance members.

Gyms will likely be less spa-like for a while, as owners are asked to consider suspending all “non-core” activities like retail operations, spa services, childcare, or food service. Non-essential vanity items will also be removed from bathrooms, and amenities like magazines, books and self-serve water should also be removed.

Hotels and short-term rentals

Hotels, many of which have already been open to serve essential workers, along as well as short-term rentals, will be required to implement a long list of guidelines contained in a 15-page directive created by the California Department of Public Health before welcoming leisure guests today.

Extensive training is required for all employees related to proper sanitation, use of protective equipment, and staying safe distances from others both on premises and when not at work. Temperature checks and/or symptom screenings also are required of workers at the beginning of their shifts.

Housekeepers are advised to only service rooms when guests are not present and minimize contact with guests’ personal belongings when cleaning. While it’s not required, it’s suggested that hotels consider leaving rooms vacant for 24 to 72 hours after a guest has left.

Sanitation obviously is a high priority, with hotels required to disinfect commonly used surfaces throughout the day and evening. In addition, all reusable materials normally found in hotels like magazines, menus, and local attraction brochures should be removed from guestrooms. The same sanitation protocols apply to hosts renting out homes for short-term stays.

This is the Ocean Park Hotel on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach.
This is the Ocean Park Hotel on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach on May 1, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Hotels are also supposed to limit the number of people in elevators, but the regulations do not offer guidance on how that should be done.

Saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs must remain closed. Also closed for now are hotel meeting rooms and banquet halls because of the continued prohibition of large gatherings.

Museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums

Museums will be required to limit entry to allow for proper social distancing and should consider using a reservation system to stagger customer visits. Only disposable, single-use maps and pamphlets can be distributed to guests. Rental audio headsets and strollers may not be available unless the venue can properly disinfect them after each use.

Face masks will be required for all visitors, except those under the age of 2 or with certain disabilities. Guests will be advised to practice social distancing of at least six feet.

Live animal shows that attract large crowds at the San Diego Zoo and Zoo Safari Park will be temporarily discontinued. Indoor play areas must be closed.

Jennifer Roesler wildlife care specialist holds Omeo, a koala joey
Jennifer Roesler wildlife care specialist holds Omeo, a koala joey, as he holds onto a stuffed panda bear at the San Diego Zoo on May 19, 2020.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Walk-through galleries will have designated entry and exit paths to avoid cross-traffic. Line queues must be designed to allow social distance between standees and to avoid people pass each other closely or face to face. Group tours will be limited to individuals from the same household.

It’s also recommended that hands-on interactive exhibits with touchscreens, buttons and hand-held listening devices should be closed or removed.

To avoid the transmission of Legionnaire’s disease and other diseases associated with water, all water systems and features must be tested for safety after the prolonged shutdown.

Cardrooms, satellite wagering facilities and racetracks

Dealers should be given adequate time to thoroughly wash their hands at each rotation, and all playing cards and chips should be replaced at each rotation.

Betting windows, cashier cages, seating for bettors and all gaming tables or machines should be reconfigured or taken out of service to provide at least six feet of separation between patrons.

All common surfaces, including gaming table rails, chairs, electronic playing book forms and touch screens should be regularly sanitized, and monitored hand-sanitation stations should be present anywhere that chips, money or tickets are handled.

The Palomar Card Room, a licensed casino in San Diego.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Establishments should consider providing disposable gloves, and nearby place to dispose of them, in any place where items such as cards or chips are regularly passed back and forth.

Meal service at gaming tables should be discontinued, but drink service is encouraged to reduce the “number of people moving around shared spaces.” Drinks should be served in covered disposable containers unless everyone at a table or other location is from the same household.

Campgrounds, RV Parks and Outdoor Recreations


Visitors with reservations for RV parks and campgrounds will be called in advance to see if they or members of their households have experienced symptoms of COVID-19. If so, their reservation will need to be postponed or canceled.

Guests may be required to check-in remotely, and if not, they’ll likely check-in to sites outside instead of in a building. Total occupancy may be limited depending on the size of a campground or RV Park.

Campers will also be encouraged to pack up any trash or waste resulting from their visit to minimize potential exposure to coronavirus for campground clean-up crews. Grills, tables and other campsite amenities will be sanitized between guest stays. Any on-site furniture cannot be moved, as it has been adjust to adhere to physical distancing efforts.

Supply stores may have plexiglass installed at the counters, or supplies like food and firewood may need to be purchased in advanced then delivered to individual campsites by staff.

People enjoy the reopening of Lake Murray Reservoir.
People enjoy the reopening of Lake Murray Reservoir on May 15, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Group activities will be discouraged and group campsites will be unavailable. Spaces for all public events like communal fire pits and amphitheaters will also be closed.

Any rented or loaned sporting equipment like bikes and kayaks will be sanitized between use, and the process to borrow equipment may be different than in previous years. Only one household unit will be allowed to use basketball courts, rock climbing walls or other activity spaces at any given time.

Shower rooms will not be available if there aren’t partitions between each unit.

Walking or hiking trails may have signs indicating the correct directions to travel in to avoid coming into close contact with other people.

Swimming pools

For public swimming pools, including pools operated by homeowners’ associations and gyms, employees and almost everyone else should wear face coverings when they are not in the water and stay at least 6 feet from people living in other households.

Showers and bathrooms should be clean and accessible, with running water, soap and paper towels. Chairs and tables spaced at least 6 feet apart, signage explaining safety rules should be posted and disinfectant wipes should be accessible to pool users if someone is not assigned to monitor disinfection efforts. Indoor pools should have operational ventilation systems.

One of two swimming pools at One Paseo.
One of two swimming pools at One Paseo, the upscale apartment homes project in Carmel Valley.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The County’s regular pool codes also still apply, including codes for water disinfection.

Some pools may require reservations to ensure there is space for social distancing, so call ahead to check.

If the pool operator has someone on site to oversee disinfection, they should be cleaning frequently-touched surfaces and objects with an approved disinfectant between uses or, if the pool is in continuous use, every hour.

As of Thursday, using hot tubs and steam rooms was not allowed. Drinking fountains should be covered to prevent use unless the fountain provides touchless, automatic water dispensing.

Swim lessons should be taught from the pool deck, if possible. If the lessons require contact with students, a family member or an instructor wearing a face covering should provide one-on-one assistance.

What remains closed

While many businesses prepare to welcome customers once again, some locations must remain closed. That includes:

  • Nail salons
  • Facial salons
  • Tattoo parlors
  • Therapeutic massage businesses

And while some places have long been open to the public, restrictions remain. For example, residents can now sit, lie down and picnic at local parks, so long as they socially distance, but play structures remain closed, according to the county’s safety plan for parks and beaches.

Activities that involve large gatherings, like conventions, concerts and sporting events, may remain closed or highly restricted until the state’s stay-at-home order ends, according to the county’s website.

U-T staff writers Pam Kragen, Lauren Mapp, Lyndsay Winkley, Morgan Cook, Paul Sisson, Lori Weisberg, Brittany Meiling, and Gary Warth contributed to this report.


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