California cracks down on scofflaw businesses, delays reopenings as coronavirus surges

Calyssa Hill, left, and Hadley Hall, wear masks on the Pacific Beach boardwalk in San Diego on June 24, 2020.
Calyssa Hill, left, and Hadley Hall wear masks while visiting the Pacific Beach boardwalk in San Diego on Thursday. Coronavirus cases in California continued a troubling spike this week.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spiking across California, officials are cracking down on scofflaw businesses and putting the brakes on reopening in hopes of slowing the spread.

The worsening pandemic has prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to put a pause on issuing rules that would allow counties to reopen other industries such as amusement parks. As a result, Walt Disney Co. said this week that Disneyland in Anaheim would not open as previously planned on July 17.

Based on the rising numbers, there’s nothing to suggest that California will be able to allow counties to open further any time soon, Newsom said.

Newsom warned that the number of new daily deaths will probably go up in a few weeks. It can take three to four weeks after exposure to the virus for infected people to become sick enough to be hospitalized, and four to five weeks after exposure for some of the most vulnerable patients to die from the disease.


Rural Imperial County, one of the nation’s most important agricultural areas, now has the highest testing positivity rate of any county in the state, with a seven-day average of 23% — well over the 8% rate seen as a danger signal by state officials. The outbreak there has overwhelmed local hospitals, forcing more than 500 patients to be sent to other counties for care.

With 5,744 cases and 73 deaths, Imperial County has the highest rate of coronavirus cases per capita in California, according to The Times’ pandemic tracker. In response, Newsom said Friday that the state was recommending that the county reimpose strict stay-at-home requirements — the first time officials have taken such a drastic move.

“We are advising and counseling them to move forward and reinstitute a stay-at-home order, but they will move at their discretion,” Newsom said. “If they are not able to come to some consensus, I am committed to intervening as is my role and responsibility as governor in the state of California.”

In San Diego County, the health department on Friday ordered an Escondido restaurant to close immediately, saying its proprietor refused to follow public health directives imposed to prevent coronavirus outbreaks.

The document signed by Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer,
declares that the Hernandez Hideaway restaurant on the shores of Lake Hodges may not reopen until it can show “that social distancing and sanitation standards will be followed.”

According to the order, county health officers issued a warning after an inspection May 29 found a lack of social distancing and that employees were not wearing face coverings. A subsequent visit on June 12 by deputy sheriffs found staff not wearing masks, and the county reported receiving a complaint about the lack of face coverings on Tuesday.

According to the county, it then contacted owner Rick Stevens, who “admitted that he was not compliant and stated he will continue to operate without these COVID preventative measures and will not require staff to wear face coverings.”


Stevens could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Hernandez Hideaway is not the only business to be shut down since the county issued an order on May 21 authorizing in-person dining. El Prez, a popular bar and restaurant in Pacific Beach, closed on May 22 after video of a raucous crowd partying shoulder-to-shoulder, largely without wearing masks, surfaced on social media.

And Belmont Park, an amusement park in Mission Bay, was closed Friday afternoon by officials who said it was operating rides in violation of state guidelines.

“There is nothing confusing in the state guidance. Amusement park rides are not allowed at this time,” San Diego County spokesman Mike Workman said. “I would remind folks that the retail and food areas can be open. But they each must adhere to the state guidelines — primarily social distancing and face coverings.”

The shutdown came on the same day that county officials announced the highest number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in a single day.

San Francisco is also experiencing a surge in its COVID-19 infection rate and will have to pause its reopening, the city’s health director said Friday.

Businesses that were scheduled to reopen Monday will now stay closed, said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

They include hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, zoos, outdoor bars and outdoor swimming pools. On June 14, 2.7 people per 100,000 tested positive for the virus, Colfax said in a virtual news conference. By Thursday, that rate had jumped to 5.1 per 100,000.

“We went from a yellow to a high orange, and if that continues over the next couple of days, we could be in our red zone,” which could trigger more restrictions, Colfax said. He said hospital capacity remained “relatively good.”

In Marin County, officials decided to pause the reopening of gyms, tattoo parlors and nail salons that was planned for Monday, although they will allow indoor dining and haircuts to resume on that day.

The Bay Area’s third-most populous county, Contra Costa, has seen its number of COVID-19 hospitalizations rise by 42% in the last seven days, and officials raised the possibility that it would delay the reopening of businesses that are scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, including indoor dining, bars, gyms, hotels, nail salons and tattoo parlors.

Sisson and Weisberg write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Times staff writer Phil Willon in Sacramento contributed to this report.