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It’s last call — again — as many bars are forced to close amid coronavirus surge

Bartender Christina Flintland serves drinks in Covina on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As coronavirus cases rocket upward in many parts of the state, bars across California — many of which only recently reopened — are being forced to again announce last call.

The taps will tighten Tuesday in Riverside County under a new health order.

“People don’t social distance well after a couple drinks, and it’s one of the hardest environments to trace contacts in,” Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said in announcing the decision Monday. “My hope is that this will be only temporary and further closures won’t be needed, but it all depends on what every one of us as a county do to slow more spread.”

The county had allowed bars to reopen June 12. However, Riverside, like many areas of California and the country at large, has seen a worrying spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks — forcing officials to slow down or walk back plans to reopen businesses that have been closed during the pandemic.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered tougher restrictions on indoor activities for most of the state, marking a major step backward in the reopening and an attempt to slow an alarming rise of the coronavirus in 19 counties.

Restaurants, breweries and pubs that offer dine-in services can still serve alcoholic drinks, but only as part of a meal, county officials said.

Riverside was one of eight counties that the state recently recommended issue local health orders closing bars. The others were Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Stanislaus.

Others weren’t given the choice. On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered seven counties — Los Angeles, Fresno, Kern, San Joaquin, Tulare, Kings and Imperial — to close bars, breweries and pubs that sell alcoholic drinks without serving food at the same time.

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“COVID-19 is still circulating in California, and in some parts of the state, growing stronger,” Newsom said in a written statement. “That’s why it is critical we take this step to limit the spread of the virus in the counties that are seeing the biggest increases.”

In light of the state’s recommendation, Sacramento County has amended its public health order “to take bars off of the list of allowable activities,” officials said in a statement. That revised order went into effect Monday.

Officials express alarm over people flouting safety rules as the state records its highest number of new coronavirus cases reported in a single day.

Santa Barbara County had done the same. The order there stipulates that brewpubs, breweries, bars and pubs should close starting Wednesday unless they also offer dine-in meals. However, wineries and tasting rooms can remain open.

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“This action, particularly in anticipation of the holiday weekend, is a proactive measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 locally,” said County Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg. “We have to keep each other safe during this time.”

San Bernardino County officials said Monday that they were examining the matter.

“This renewed growth in infections not only increases the risk of people getting sick and even dying, but also threatens our ability to continue reopening our economy,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman said. “It is critical that you continue practicing social distancing and wearing a mask when you’re around other people.”

With coronavirus cases surging in California, the holiday weekend is a crucial test for whether residents can reduce risky behavior.

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Officials in Ventura County said they are already in line with the guidance, and bars were not open in four other named counties — Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Joaquin and Imperial — at the time of the state’s announcement.

“You are much more likely to run into someone who has no symptoms but is positive if you gather with others,” Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin said. “It’s important that we collectively work together to stop the spread so that lives can be saved, and businesses can remain open.”

Other areas that were not listed by the state, including San Diego County, have also taken action to close some alcohol-serving establishments in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Michelle Steel, chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said Tuesday that the health officer “is considering the issuance of health orders to close bars in Orange County if, in his medical opinion, it is appropriate to do so.”

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“Throughout our pandemic response, and in our phased reopening, we have consistently stated that we would closely monitor the data and correct course as needed,” she said. “I, and my colleagues on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, remain dedicated to protecting the health and safety of our residents.”


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