Explaining his decision to require limited bar closures in seven counties, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Monday that the state will continue to pull back on reopening as COVID-19 spreads in California.
“The bottom line is: We’re doing this because we have seen an increase in the spread of this virus,” Newsom said. “We need to take further steps and that’s exactly what we did this weekend.”
Newsom reported a 45% increase in coronavirus cases in the last seven days and said the rate of positive tests is now at 5.5%. As of Monday, the state is monitoring and working with 19 counties that have failed to meet guidelines for hospitalizations, transmission of the virus or sufficient testing for at least three days.
The governor warned about growing cases one day after he ordered a limited closure of bars in seven counties that have fallen short of the state’s guidelines for more than two weeks. But the practical effect of the governor’s first action to impose restrictions that had been previously lifted in some areas remains unclear.
The new state requirement shutters only bars that do not serve food in Los Angeles, Fresno, Kern, San Joaquin, Tulare, Kings and Imperial counties. Bars are allowed to remain open in those counties and serve alcohol if they sell dine-in meals in the same transaction and meet state safety guidelines for restaurants. Establishments that do not traditionally serve food are also allowed to contract with an outside food vendor to remain open.
The state recommended that bars in eight other counties also close their doors under the same criteria.
About 3,000 businesses across the state are licensed to sell beer, wine and alcohol for on-premise consumption, but the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control does not keep a tally of how many of those bars regularly serve meals, said John Carr, a spokesman for the agency, in an email.
Carr said local health authorities approve kitchen facilities and food service to the public. ABC works closely with state and local health departments, preferring education over enforcement, he said.
“ABC agents can follow up on complaints and can also visit the locations to help ensure compliance,” he said. “Compliance throughout California during the pandemic has been very good. Whenever agents have paid a visit to a location, almost all of them have complied with the request to follow health guidelines and help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services, said the goal of the order was to target bars that primarily serve alcohol. The state guidelines for opening require restaurants to create space between customers and would not allow allow people to pack into smaller bars that cannot meet those rules, an aide to Ghaly said.
Some businesses found ways to adapt in earlier stages of the reopening.
Moksa Brewing Co. in Rocklin expanded its menu beyond beer to include $2.50 hot dogs in order to open with Placer County restaurants in May. Derek Gallanosa, head brewer at Moksa, said the brewery worked with the county to ensure they could safely deliver hot dogs from another restaurant and keep them warm in a catering chafing dish.
“Initially we were like, ‘Hey, we’re going to sell you a hot dog. It’s very low cost. You don’t have to eat it,’” Gallanosa said. “But it turns people were coming to us eating hot dogs. So they didn’t mind it and it only is one food item on a single ticket.”
Gallanosa said the brewery adapted to meet physical distancing requirements and other state guidelines to reopen restaurants. Pivoting to food service also allowed Moksa to boost business and open weeks before bars returned in Placer County in June. If the county issues restrictions again, Gallanosa said, Moksa will bring back the hot dog deal.
“We’re already prepared and just waiting for the day that we have to do it.” he said.
Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Assn., said many of the small breweries in his groups looked for ways to pivot to food service in order for their business to survive.
“I’ve heard many heart-wrenching stories from members who really really struggled through this,” McCormick said of the shutdown.
Newsom threatened Monday to order the return of the stay-at-home directive in Imperial County, where he said the rate of positive cases has been as high as 23%, if local officials did not do so on their own.
“If they are unsuccessful in building consensus around going back into a stay-at-home order frame, the state of California will assert itself and make sure that happens,” Newsom said.
He also warned that the state is considering additional restrictions in other areas.
“Let me be forthright with you: We are considering a number of other things to advance and we will be making those public as conditions change,” he said.