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Renegade restaurants and maskless partying at bars set off new coronavirus alarm

Few people wear masks on the crowded sidewalks of San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter on Saturday.
Few people wear masks on the crowded sidewalks of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter on Saturday.
(Abby Hamblin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

California has been aggressively reopening businesses in recent weeks, with health officials saying social distancing and other safety rules are essential in preventing the further spread of the coronavirus.

New cases continue to increase in California, but health officials say that’s because of more testing and not community spread from reopened businesses.

But they fear new outbreaks, especially if people take part in risky behavior.

On Monday, health officials in both San Diego and Los Angeles County expressed alarm that protocols were not being followed. Meanwhile, Laguna Beach officials took action aimed at encouraging social distancing in its business district.

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Bar patrons shoulder to shoulder in San Diego

Maskless partying over the weekend in downtown San Diego prompted a public health warning.

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox said the scene in the Gaslamp Quarter, particularly on Friday night — the first night bars and clubs were allowed to reopen in the state — was “pretty bad.”

Many patrons were seen shoulder to shoulder on city sidewalks, waiting — sans masks — for access to downtown bars. Measures will be taken in the Gaslamp starting Thursday, Cox said, with the San Diego Police Department blocking off streets to allow more space for revelers to spread out and keep six feet apart.

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The county has a set of “triggers” in place that are designed to gauge whether the virus is starting to spread more quickly. Cox noted that if viral activity reached specified thresholds, public health action would be swift and could result in pausing the reopening process.

The bulk of California’s cases are still in Los Angeles County, where officials reported 61 additional COVID-19-related deaths and 1,275 new cases on Wednesday.

“We don’t want to do that. You don’t want us to do that. So let’s not let it happen,” Cox said. “Like they say in boxing, protect yourself at all times.”

Lt. Shawn Takeuchi of the San Diego Police Department said Monday evening that public drunkenness and violent behavior would remain the priorities for police patrolling in the Gaslamp but that officers would ask for voluntary compliance if they saw people in crowds without masks.

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An illicit dance party, held in a South L.A. warehouse on Friday night, may have been the city’s first live music event since the coronavirus shutdown.

Some L.A. restaurants breaking the rules

Inspections have found many L.A. County restaurants are not following the rules.

Officials visited roughly 2,000 restaurants over the weekend and found that half of them were not in compliance with the county’s guidelines.

Health officials expressed alarm at the findings, stressing that it is essential that both customers and merchants follow safety guidelines to avoid new coronavirus outbreaks.

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California has allowed businesses to reopen at a rapid clip, leading to concerns from some that this could cause the virus to spread more. Although the number of cases continues to rise, officials have said they think it is safe to reopen as long as everyone obeys the rules.

“There should be no places where tables are right next to each other,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.

Restaurants that have violated the orders will be revisited, and patrons who notice potential risks at eateries can lodge a complaint via a public health department hotline.

Promenade open in Laguna Beach

The Promenade on Forest Avenue officially opened with a ribbon-cutting Monday, and city officials are asking patrons to wear face masks and follow a defined one-way route to maintain social distancing.

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The outdoor area on Forest Avenue, between Coast Highway and Glenneyre Street, will be open to pedestrians only, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, through Sept. 7.

The design, which includes decks for dining, retail display and performance art, supports local businesses on lower Forest Avenue. String lighting, umbrellas and plants provide ambience and some daytime shade.

David Rubel, co-owner of Fredric H. Rubel Jewelers, hopes the opening boosts business while keeping people safe.

“I’m excited,” Rubel said. “I love the idea that we did this, and I hope all of the businesses do well, even the ones that weren’t for it. I think it brings the community together. We’re not going to have any festivals [this summer], any Fourth of July fireworks, no Playhouse. This is a place for residents to come and hang out, be part of their community.”

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At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen credited City Councilwoman Sue Kempf and Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis for helping make the promenade a reality.

“This is exciting,” said Whalen of Promenade on Forest, which was approved by the City Council on May 12. “I think this will be a fun opportunity for our community, a great boost for our local retailers and restaurants. I just encourage you all to come down, wear your mask, safely social distance and spend some money.”

Sisson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Szabo for Times Community News.


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