Earlier this week, Yuba and Sutter counties in Northern California defied Gov. Gavin Newsom and issued local orders to allow some businesses to reopen with strict regulations aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
But now, California officials are warning that reopened businesses risk losing their license to operate if they continue to violate the state’s stay-at-home order.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control visited multiple locations in Yuba and Sutter counties this week and warned restaurants that they could lose their state license to serve alcohol if they don’t close down their dining rooms.
The counties have a combined population of 171,000, with nearly half of them living in the twin cities of Marysville and Yuba City, which sit on either side of the Feather River and are about 40 miles north of Sacramento, the state capital.
Agents with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control on Tuesday asked restaurants to close in-house dining voluntarily, said John Carr, a spokesman with the agency.
The agency says that restaurants can only operate for takeout service under the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order. Alcoholic beverages can be sold to go, but must be in a sealed container. Bars that don’t serve food cannot operate under the state order.
Any business that refuses to comply with a warning to shut down could see its license to sell alcohol suspended or revoked, the agency said on its website. Defiance of the statewide order, the agency said, “endangers public health and safety.”
Newsom’s stay-at-home order also requires the shutdown of bars and nightclubs that don’t serve food, gyms, and hair and nail salons. Newsom says when local and state stay-at-home rules conflict, the stricter rule applies.
A day after the state’s action, the health officer for Yuba and Sutter counties expressed concern that local businesses and residents were not doing their part to adhere to local social distancing and face covering rules needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has led to more than 60,000 confirmed infections and more than 2,400 deaths across California.
Even as Dr. Phuong Luu, the health officer for Yuba and Sutter Counties, ordered an easing of the local stay-at-home order at odds with the state’s rules — allowing restaurants, stores, gyms, salons, spas and tattoo parlors to reopen — she wrote a letter Wednesday criticizing businesses that failed to enforce new local rules requiring face coverings and keeping customers six feet apart from each other.
“I understand that some of your customers may strongly object to a facial-covering requirement, but the long-term safety of our community is at stake. We do not want to take any steps back in our phasing-in efforts,” Luu wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.
“If you have an indoor business that allows customers and clients, adequate social distancing is not likely to occur on any consistent basis. Therefore, such operations must include both social-distancing and facial-coverings protocols. It is incumbent on these business owners to ensure their staff is wearing facial coverings and to require their customers/clients to do the same.”
Luu warned of grave health impacts if businesses don’t comply.
“It is imperative to make all necessary adjustments to the way we conduct business in our community immediately so that we do not run the risk of seeing a resurgence and need to go back to stricter orders,” Luu wrote.
Yuba and Sutter counties were two of three Northern California counties in the past week to defy Newsom’s orders, allowing businesses to reopen beyond the statewide order. The third county, Modoc, in the northeastern corner of California, has fewer than 9,000 residents.
Modoc County is one of four California counties to not record a single confirmed case of the coronavirus. Yuba and Sutter counties have recorded a combined 50 coronavirus cases and three deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, only one person was hospitalized in Yuba and Sutter counties and suspected to have the coronavirus, according to the California Health and Human Services Agency.
Newsom declined to say Monday whether there would be consequences for those counties and said the overwhelming majority of the state’s 58 counties were doing the right thing.
On Tuesday, Newsom criticized Yuba and Sutter counties for reopening businesses still ordered shut by the statewide order. The Yuba Sutter Mall in Yuba City reopened Wednesday, although not all stores inside were open.
“They’re making a big mistake. They’re putting their public at risk. They’re putting our progress at risk,” Newsom said during a COVID-19 briefing in Sacramento on Tuesday. “These are real exceptions. The overwhelming majority of Californians are playing by the rules doing the right thing.”
The new health order for Yuba and Sutter counties still prohibits some businesses from reopening, including bars and nightclubs that don’t serve food, museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, live performance venues, places of worship and other mass gathering spaces, schools, community centers, beaches and piers, and summer camps and residence halls.
Marni Sanders, chief executive of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce, said earlier this week that the local business community “is thrilled that we are open.”
“I can tell you driving around there are lots of businesses open that weren’t open yesterday, so it’s a really good sign,” she said Monday.
Times staff writers Phil Willon and Taryn Luna contributed to this report.