Judge overrules county, allows San Diego strip clubs to reopen
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to increase in San Diego County.
Two San Diego adult entertainment clubs were poised to resume live entertainment Friday after a court ruling temporarily stopped enforcement of recent cease-and-desist orders issued by the county health department.
Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil granted a request for a temporary injunction that stops “any government entity or law enforcement officer from enforcing the provisions of the cease-and-desist orders” filed against two establishments — Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club — provided both locations follow extensive measures designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on their premises.
A lawsuit that the clubs filed against the county in October alleges that the county’s public health orders, which prohibit live entertainment but that don’t specifically mention adult entertainment, violate the businesses’ constitutional rights of due process and equal protection under the law, arguing that other establishments, from restaurants to comedy clubs, have been allowed to host “considerable live entertainment.”
Reached Friday evening, Jason Saccuzzo, the attorney representing Pacers in the action, said the Midway district strip club planned to resume dancing that very evening with dancers separated from patrons by 15 feet.
“We feel this is not going to be something that results in the transmission of the virus,” Saccuzzo said. “We believe we are taking every reasonable precaution to exceed the guidelines.”
It was not clear Friday exactly when Cheetahs planned to resume dancing, though its website said it is now open for business.
The county ordered Pacers to stop all live entertainment on Oct. 14 following a stabbing incident involving Padres outfielder Tommy Pham outside the club the previous weekend. A few days later, the City of San Diego confirmed that it was seeking a cease-and-desist order against Cheetahs in Kearny Mesa.
It was not clear Friday night exactly what effect the order might have on other establishments that have received similar orders from the county health department under COVID-19 health orders.
The injunction arrived as an additional 480 cases appeared in Friday’s daily coronavirus report.
Local COVID-related hospitalizations, perhaps the most closely watched statistic after cases, also continue to rise. According to the latest report, the daily “census” total of patients in hospital beds with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnoses has increased for four straight days, rising from 273 countywide Monday to 332 Thursday.
The case and hospitalization increases do not bode well for staying out of the most-restrictive level of the state’s reopening system. A fall in next week’s report on Tuesday would require restaurants and other businesses to eliminate indoor activity.
There were also indications that, despite orders to skip Halloween parties this year, many didn’t.
In North County, the Vista Unified School District notified parents Thursday that more than 200 of its high school students were involved in two large house parties over Halloween weekend, setting back reopening efforts by a week.
“One involved a very large group of students who were primarily from Mission Vista High School, and the other included a very large group of students who were primarily from Vista High School,” Supt. Matt Doyle said in Thursday’s update. “There were more than 200 students involved in these two house parties. Based upon reports we have received, students were not practicing social distancing and were not all wearing face coverings.”
The two high schools, which reopened Oct. 20 for in-person instruction, shut down shortly afterward, after identifying two positive COVID-19 cases at each campus. The district originally sent home hundreds of classmates of the infected students, and then voted to send the entire campus into quarantine for two weeks.
That period will be extended by an additional week, until Monday, Nov. 16, to ensure that no students who attended the parties return to school with the virus.
“There’s the potential for students to bring the virus onto campus after they’re at a large gathering, and we have to be careful,” Doyle said Friday. “We just extended the period that they’re in virtual for another week, so we can be confident when they return, that there aren’t any symptoms.”
The episode represents another hurdle for Vista Unified, which has been at the forefront of North County districts in its reopening plans. With nearly 10,000 students, about half of its student body, back on campus, the district has had to navigate the protocols and procedures for managing in-person learning during the pandemic.
“One of our main mottos this year is that we all have to be working together to find pathways for students back to the classroom,” Doyle said. “We have an obligation to keep the students safe, but we also have the obligation to educate students. We have to work together to accomplish that.”
Officials at other North County districts, most of which have reopened only partially, or not yet reopened at all, said they were not aware of similar incidents over the holiday weekend.
It was not clear Friday evening whether the houses where the parties were held have faced any consequences. The county health department said in a statement that it does not “typically pursue parties in residential homes.”
Sisson and Brennan write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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