California Shuts Down Bars in 7 Counties Amid Spikes in COVID-19 Cases

Days after Texas and Florida mandated that bars shut down for on-premise consumption, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered an immediate end to on-site sales at bars in seven counties, as well as recommended that eight additional counties take similar action in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The eight counties required to close in Newsom’s order include Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, San Joaquin and Tulare, while the governor is recommending bars close in Contra Costa, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and Ventura. Counties ordered to immediately close have been listed on the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) “Monitoring List” of areas where spread of the virus has been increasing for more than 14 days, while those on the recommended list have been listed for between three and 14 days.

Four of those counties — Contra Costa, Imperial, San Joaquin and Santa Clara — had yet to permit the reopening of bars, but the state went ahead in mandating or recommending they remain closed.

As such, bars, breweries, brewpubs, and pubs are required to close unless those establishments offer sit-down, dine-in meals. Alcoholic beverages can only be sold in transactions involving food. However, the CDPH is encouraging establishments that remain open to encourage takeout and delivery.

In order to continue serving alcoholic beverages, brewpubs, breweries, bars, and pubs without on-site food service must contract with an outside vendor to provide dine-in meals.

“Breweries in seven California counties will be allowed to continue to operate under the requirements applicable to restaurants, including serving a meal to consumers for onsite consumption of alcoholic beverages,” Leia Bailey, California Craft Brewers Association Associate Executive Director, wrote in an email to Brewbound. “This was a requirement under a previous phase of re-opening for breweries and many breweries will need to shift operations back to this model to remain open for onsite dining.”

California had allowed bars to reopen on June 12. However, cases in the state have spiked in the weeks since. The number of new cases in California reached a new single-day record for the state on June 23, with 7,149 new positive cases. Those numbers have since ebbed and flowed, with 4,890 on June 25, 5,972 new cases on June 26, and 4,810 new cases on June 27.

In a section titled “Justification,” the CDPH wrote that a bar is “foundationally … a social setting where typically not only small groups convene, but also where groups mix with other groups.” The CDPH called bar settings “the highest risk sector of non-essential business currently open” and pointed to “a growing body of evidence tracing large COVID-19 outbreaks in both urban and rural states, to bars.”

“Physical movement within the establishment, duration of time spent in the establishment, and the degree of social mixing within individuals and groups are all greater in bars than in other hospitality sectors,” the agency wrote. “Further, alcohol consumption slows brain activity, reduces inhibition, and impairs judgment, factors which contribute to reduced compliance with recommended core personal protective measures, such as the mandatory use of face coverings and maintaining six feet of distance from people outside of one’s own household.”

The CDPH also noted that bars are louder settings, and as patrons raise their voices, there’s an increase in the projection of oral emitted viral droplets.

“In their totality, these factors present a higher likelihood of transmission of the coronavirus within groups, between groups, and among the workforce,” the agency wrote. “These factors have led to an increasing concern by public health professionals within California and throughout the nation identifying bars as the highest risk sector of non-essential business currently open.”

California’s shutdown of bars in certain counties comes after Texas and Florida each ordered bars to close again as those states recorded record highs in new COVID-19 cases.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott closed establishments that receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages at noon on Friday, June 26, and he reduced occupancy limits for on-site dining from 75% to 50%, which go into effect today.

Texas has recorded more than 5,000 new cases of COVID-198 daily, dating back to June 23. On Saturday and Sunday, the state recorded 5,747 and 5,357 new cases, respectively.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the state recorded a record-high 9,585 new cases on Saturday and 8,530 new cases on Sunday.

In an email to Brewbound, Texas Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Charles Vallhonrat wrote that although “craft breweries are not bars, the majority of taprooms fall under the order and will therefore have to temporarily cease operating, once again leaving beer-to-go sales as a critical revenue stream.”

“The health and safety of all Texans is paramount and we support taking the appropriate steps to stop the spread of coronavirus in Texas, yet we are disappointed that our members were given less than three hours to comply with [Friday’s] order and that a more refined solution could not have been found,” he wrote.

Vallhonrat added that the guild has been in communication with Abbott’s office, as well as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, in hopes the governor would allow brewery taprooms, brewpubs, wineries, and distilleries to continue to operate at 50% capacity and also continue using outdoor seating spaces.

“Compounding the difficulty of this order is the lack of financial assistance available at this time to breweries and other establishments that must shut down,” he wrote. “While there have been adjustments made to the Paycheck Protection Program and other components of the CARES Act, many breweries were in the process of bringing staff back on board and taking the right steps to qualify for PPP forgiveness. The shut down potentially puts their compliance in jeopardy, adding additional financial risk at an already difficult time.”

Even with safety protocols in place, one Michigan bar found out that the worst case scenario can happen. Health officials in Michigan have linked about 85 cases of COVID-19 to Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub in East Lansing, according to CNN. The Ingham County Health Department is asking anyone who visited the bar between June 12 and June 20 to self-quarantine.

“Given the number of cases in this outbreak, we consider this a higher risk exposure than a typical visit to a restaurant or bar,” Ingham County Health officer Linda Vail told CNN. “There are likely more people infected with COVID-19 not yet identified.”

In a June 22 social media post, Harper’s said it would temporarily close to eliminate lines that had formed outside of the facility, as well as give it time to modify its HVAC system to install air purifying technology.

The Detroit Free Press reported that college students who visited Harper’s, also attended a house party in Grosse Pointe Woods where the host displayed COVID-19 symptoms and partygoers didn’t wear masks or adhere to social distances. In the Grosse Pointes, 23 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Friday, the Free Press reported.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. has now topped 2.5 million, with 125,928 deaths, according to John Hopkins University.

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