10 p.m. curfew imposed for all San Diego County restaurants and bars
County health department says move is designed to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus
It is not just bars that will be affected by a set of new rules that seek to slow the spread of novel coronavirus in San Diego County. Restaurants of all kinds will also operate under reduced hours, the county health department announced Tuesday afternoon.
Bars not serving food with every drink order were already mandated to shut down at 12 a.m. Wednesday. But public health officials added a significant additional mandate just hours before the new rule was to take effect: starting Wednesday, all restaurants, including bars serving food, must close at 10 p.m.
This fresh set of edicts, though, is a bit of a Shar Pei puppy. It has wrinkles on top of wrinkles.
Restaurants, including those that do not serve alcohol, must be “closed” from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. the following day. But patrons already inside an establishment when closing time arrives will be allowed to hang around until 11 p.m. And wine drinkers get an additional boon. Wineries can continue serving their products, without having to also serve food, provided the glasses clink outdoors.
Everybody, whether inside or out, restaurant or bar, may only serve to people who are seated at tables. Open seating will not be allowed, and mingling with people outside one’s immediate party is forbidden.
This set of restrictions pretty much amounts to dissolution of San Diego County’s recently rebooted night life, such as it was under continuing social-distancing and mask-wearing mandates. The new rules arrive as the region, like the state and the nation, sees increased numbers of positive COVID-19 cases and additional burdens appearing in hospitals.
Only a day after California recorded its highest single-day count of coronavirus cases — more than 8,000 infections — the state’s death toll surpassed 6,000.
The latest numbers announced Tuesday were mixed.
While there were only 317 new cases announced, significantly fewer than the single-day, record-setting 498 added Monday, local hospitalizations continued to increase, reaching a new record of 493 people with COVID in hospital beds across the county. Deaths also continued to increase, reaching 365 from a previous total of 361. The county’s 14-day average positive test rate continued to hover at 4.2 percent.
Officials said Tuesday that they know the latest orders affecting restaurants and bars are not likely to be popular with the public, especially as the Fourth of July weekend arrives. But Supervisor Greg Cox said that allowing bars to remain open, and restaurants to stay open late, would invite trouble. Other counties surrounding San Diego have already been ordered by the state, the supervisor noted, to shut their bars. Being the lone county in Southern California with bars and restaurants open late on the Fourth, he said, just did not seem like the right adventure to choose.
“Having San Diego bars open exposes us to risk of larger crowds here celebrating the holiday at our establishments and accelerating the spread of the virus,” Cox said. “It’s a risk we do not want to take.”
There seems to be less concern about local beaches becoming magnets for weekend visitors from the north and east.
Though Los Angeles County has already announced that its coastline will be closed, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said that a similar plan has not yet surfaced in San Diego. Fletcher said public health data does not show many coronavirus outbreaks outdoors, prompting the county to stay out of open-or-close decisions, leaving them to individual beach cities and the state parks department.
“I’ve spoken to a few of the coastal mayors who all feel confident they can maintain order at their beaches throughout the holiday weekend,” Fletcher said.
It was clear, though, that there may still be some discussion in store before beach closure decisions are finalized.
Oceanside City Manager Deanna Lorson said the coastal North County city has no plans so far to close city beaches or beach parking lots again, but cities have a standing COVID-19 meeting with the county on Wednesdays and it could be discussed then.
A Carlsbad official said they’ve been talking with other coastal cities, state parks and the county, but no final decisions have been made.
Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of the county’s epidemiology department, provided a bit more information Tuesday on the role that recent protests have played in the region’s growing numbers of new cases. McDonald said that, to date, just 29 people have reported attending a protest within 14 days of starting to exhibit symptoms of coronavirus infection. Some, he said, attended protests outside San Diego County and one was not a local resident. It’s important, he added, to understand that the data the county collects seldom proves exactly how a person became infected.
“We’re not saying that these individuals contracted their infections at those events,” McDonald said. “It’s just among the things that they said they did in the two weeks before they became ill.”
The county continued to say Tuesday that, so far, it has detected no outbreaks linked to protests. An outbreak is three or more cases from different households contracted in the same location.
Michael Georgopoulos, a partner in the RMD Group, which owns and operates several Gaslamp Quarter venues, including Rustic Root, Volcano Rabbit and Side Bar, predicts that the new curfew for restaurants and bars will have a devastating impact on nightlife destinations like his. He said he is weighing whether it makes financial sense to remain open with such limited hours. The hours after 10 p.m. are the bread and butter of hospitality businesses like his.
“For my business model as it relates to my restaurants and the (Side Bar) lounge, those post-10 p.m. hours are vital,” Georgopoulos said. “We just opened Lumi, a Japanese restaurant, and I’ve been there every night, and my business is as busy at 11, 12 and 1 a.m. as it is at 6 or 7. It’s just the way people dine in the Gaslamp.
“We’re weighing a closure for all of these because there are strong economic considerations now that we’re losing the meat of our weekend nights.”
Georgopoulos said he’s spoken to other owners in the Gaslamp who are equally troubled by the mandated change in hours of operation. Many have invested considerable money in adding plexiglass barriers, training staff on safety measures, and assigning certain staff members to handle exclusively the cleaning of high-touch surfaces.
“The general consensus is the same as mine, that this will devastate our business,” he said. “Ten p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights is the most important part of our financial model.”
Andrew Boyer, owner of 5th Avenue Kitchen and Tap in Bankers Hill, said the 10 p.m. restriction would force him to close two hours early on Fridays and Saturdays, but he was not complaining.
“We’ll lose a little bit of money but it’s not worth risking safety,” said Boyer, whose establishment requires customers to wear face coverings whenever they leave their tables. “Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s just terrible what’s going on out there and the lack of respect some people have. We’ve gotten into a couple confrontations here with people not putting on their masks.”
Boyer estimated the 10 p.m. rule would reduce revenue by about $350 to $400 each Friday and Saturday. But that’s far better than the 60 percent decrease he estimated his business suffered in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.
“We’re trying to stay positive and look at it as whatever is best for the city and the community,” he said.
Some restaurants, though, have voluntarily closed even though they’re allowed to remain open.
Nolita Hall in Little Italy was scheduled to reopen Tuesday (June 30) after closing on June 17, the day it became the first restaurant in the county to disclose that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.
The website Eater San Diego reported that owner Douglas Hamm said the restaurant had followed strict sanitary and safety protocols, including a reduced seating capacity, mandatory face masks and plexiglass partitions.
In Oceanside, Mission Avenue Bar and Grill also voluntarily closed after two employees tested positive for COVID-19 on June 23. It reopened Monday.
“I think it was the responsible thing to do,” owner Cameron Braselton said about closing the restaurant. “We thought it would be best to shut down immediately as soon as we heard the results.”
Braselton said the restaurant had practiced social distancing as much as possible when open. During the weeklong closure, Braselton hired a company to sanitize the restaurant, and he paid for about 30 staff members to be tested for COVID-19. There were no other positive tests, he said.
Also in Oceanside, Masters Kitchen and Cocktail posted on its Facebook page June 25 that it was voluntarily closing for two weeks.
“To our valued guests and employees, we recently had a positive test of Covid and have decided the best decision for the health (and) safety of everyone is to close for two weeks,” the post read. “We hope to see you on July 8th when we plan on reopening.
In Encinitas, the owner of the organic restaurant Goodonya posted on her Facebook page June 28 that the eatery would close until July 3 because an employee had tested positive.
In her video, owner Kris Buchanan said the restaurant would be sanitized and other employees would be tested during the closure.
She also said the restaurant would not offer dine-in service after it reopens because of what she called “The Great Encinitas Mask Debate,” which involves customers who have been abusive to staff members after being told they must wear a facial covering.
“We have people coming into our restaurant screaming, yelling, making our staff cry,” she said, adding that some employees are high school students.
“So I’m no longer willing to put my staff in that position where they’re getting berated,” she said. “There’s been people who have threatened to sue us.”
On Monday, Buchanan posted another video thanking people for the support they showed after her original post. She also notified customers who may be concerned they were exposed to the virus that antibody testing would be conducted at the restaurant on Tuesday afternoon.
Phil Diehl, Rob Nikolewski, Gary Warth and Lori Weisberg contributed to this report.
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