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Newsom threatens to reverse California reopening as coronavirus spreads

Taryn Luna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Explaining his decision to require limited bar closures in seven counties, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Monday that the state will continue to pull back on reopening as COVID-19 spreads in California.

"The bottom line is: We're doing this because we have seen an increase in the spread of this virus," Newsom said. "We need to take further steps and that's exactly what we did this weekend."

Newsom reported a 45% increase in coronavirus cases in the last seven days and said the rate of positive tests is now at 5.5%. As of Monday, the state is monitoring and working with 19 counties that have failed to meet guidelines for hospitalizations, transmission of the virus or sufficient testing for at least three days.

The governor warned about growing cases one day after he ordered a limited closure of bars in seven counties that have fallen short of the state's guidelines for more than two weeks. But the practical effect of the governor's first action to impose restrictions that had been previously lifted in some areas remains unclear.

The new state requirement only shutters bars that do not serve food in Los Angeles, Fresno, Kern, San Joaquin, Tulare, Kings and Imperial counties. Bars are allowed to remain open in those counties and serve alcohol if they sell dine-in food in the same transaction and meet state safety guidelines for restaurants. Establishments that do not traditionally serve food are also allowed to contract with an outside food vendor to remain open.

The state recommended that bars in eight other counties also close their doors under the same criteria.

About 3,000 businesses across the state are licensed to sell beer, wine and alcohol for on-premise consumption, but the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control does not keep a tally of how many of those bars regularly serve meals, said John Carr, a spokesman for the agency, in an email.

Carr said local health authorities approve kitchen facilities and food service to the public. ABC works closely with state and local health departments, preferring education over enforcement, he said.

"ABC agents can follow up on complaints and can also visit the locations to help ensure compliance," he said. "Compliance throughout California during the pandemic has been very good. Whenever agents have paid a visit to a location, almost all of them have complied with the request to follow health guidelines and help stop the spread of COVID 19."

 

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services, said the goal of the order was to target bars that primarily serve alcohol. Newsom warned that the state is considering additional restrictions.

"Let me be forthright with you: We are considering a number of other things to advance and we will be making those public as conditions change," he said.

Newsom also threatened Monday that the state would impose a stay-at-home order on Imperial County, where he said the rate of positive cases has been as high as 23%, if local officials did not do so on their own.

"If they are unsuccessful in building consensus around going back into a stay-at-home order frame, the state of California will assert itself and make sure that that happens," Newsom said.

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