California Orders Halt to Indoor Operations in 19 Virus Hotspots

Locals having lunch in Visalia, Calif. (Courthouse News photo / Dustin Manduffie)

(CN) — California will shut down indoor services at restaurants and wineries and order movie theaters, zoos and museums to bar indoor operations in 19 counties that have seen a surge in novel coronavirus infections, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday as part of a move to stem the spread of Covid-19 during large gatherings this upcoming Independence Day weekend.

The move also impacts cardrooms and family entertainment centers in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and Sacramento counties, plus 15 others that are under intense monitoring by state health officials. 

The decision to impose restrictions on indoor activity in certain sectors is based not only on the spike in total Covid-19 cases across the state but also the surge in the number of people testing positive for the virus even as testing increases, Newsom said. 

‘The decisions made here today are done soberly and deliberately. Not every part of the state is impacted equally, and as a consequence we’re not targeting these restrictions at a statewide level,” Newsom said in a press conference Wednesday. “We have deep reverence and respect for local health officials and their determinations of what’s working in their communities.”

State guidelines for indoor operations will remain in place for at least three weeks, Newsom said. 

Gyms, which were recently allowed to reopen under strict safety guidelines, were not included in Wednesday’s action. 

California will also close state-run parking facilities at beaches in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area for the holiday weekend, but will not mandate that beach access be restricted.

If counties outside those regions decide to shut down beach access, California will also close neighboring state beaches, Newsom said, adding state parks can remain open. 

“This upcoming weekend has raised a lot of concern from health officials,” Newsom said. “If we want to be independent from Covid-19, we have to be much more vigilant in terms of maintaining physical distance from others.”

LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Wednesday she supports the state’s action, writing on Twitter that Covid-19 cases are too high to justify leaving county beaches open. 

“As we head into the 4th of July weekend, do the patriotic thing and stay home,” Hahn tweeted. 

California Republican Party chair Jessica Millan Patterson slammed Newsom’s order, claiming his “mismanagement of this situation has failed California.”

“Overwhelmingly, Californians have worked hard to follow Governor Newsom’s March directives so we could flatten the curve and get our lives and economy back on track.  We’ve done what he’s asked — so it’s clear that his failure in leadership has led to this point,” Millan Patterson said in a statement. 

She faulted Newsom’s “arbitrary closure of some businesses, and not others, and directives on some issues, and not others” which she said will make things even harder for small businesses already struggling in the pandemic.

“For all Californians, please be safe and healthy. Follow CDC guidelines to keep your family out of harm’s way so we can get through this together. But we implore the governor to stop using this piecemeal approach that is going to further cost jobs and hurt working families throughout our state,” she said.

California health officials reported at least 105,000 people were tested for Covid-19 Tuesday and that 5,898 tested positive for the virus statewide over the last 24 hours.

Screenshot of California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a coronavirus briefing on July 1, 2020.

The state’s positivity rate — the number of positive cases among residents receiving Covid-19 tests, a key indicator of community spread of the virus — stands at 6.4% over the last week, up from 4.4% two week ago, Newsom said Wednesday.

“It may not seem like much of an increase, but every decimal point is profoundly impactful,” Newsom said.

Health officials are also concerned that the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospitals has increased by 51% over the last week, but Newsom said the state’s hospitalization capacity is still well positioned to absorb tens of thousands more patients if needed.

Newsom urged Californians to not let their guard down if they attend large group gatherings this weekend and reiterated the statewide mandate for wearing face masks in public. 

He also threw a lifeline to struggling renters by issuing an executive order that extends through Sept. 30 local governments’ authorization to impose eviction moratoriums for renters impacted by the pandemic.

In Orange County, health officer Clayton Chau issued an order Wednesday closing all bars in the coastal county beginning July 2, citing the uptick in Covid-19 cases.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said the move aligns Southern California counties’ efforts to keep people from gathering in large groups.

“While we would prefer not to close bars at this time, many of our neighboring counties have closed their bars, and it’s important to take precautions to ensure the safety of the general public,” Steel said in a statement Wednesday.

The order doesn’t apply to restaurants, breweries or bars that offer dine-in service. Bars in the county have been allowed to operate since June 12.

Orange County has seen 13,843 positive Covid-19 cases and 340 related deaths as of Tuesday, the same day health officials there reported the county’s highest daily count of novel coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

“As we experience a rise in positive cases and hospitalizations, it is important that we take swift and prudent action so that we do not overload our healthcare system or jeopardize the progress we have made in reopening our economy,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said in a statement Wednesday. 

Bars have become a central focus of stricter public health guidelines since they are congregate settings where the risk of community spread of Covid-19 is increased.  

People typically gather in groups and mix in close proximity to each other over long periods in bars, which increases the likelihood of the spread of a droplet-spread communicable disease like Covid-19. 

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