SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered bars closed in seven California counties — including Los Angeles — as the state grapples with a surge in coronavirus infections and increasing hospitalizations after reopening most sectors over the past month.
The move comes two days after Republican governors in Texas and Florida closed bars after seeing concerning levels of coronavirus spread in their states.
California’s daily average of new cases has soared over the past week, which Newsom has acknowledged is not solely due to expanded testing availability. The state’s positivity rate has climbed above 5 percent, while the number of people requiring hospitalization has increased by 29 percent over the past week.
The move Sunday marks the first time the Democratic governor has closed a sector that he had previously allowed to open during the pandemic. The seven counties that must close bars or keep them shuttered are Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, San Joaquin and Tulare, all of which have been on the state’s watch list for at least two weeks. All but Los Angeles are located in the Central Valley, which has seen rapidly rising infections and hospitalizations.
“Californians must remain vigilant against this virus,” Newsom said in a statement. “COVID-19 is still circulating in California, and in some parts of the state, growing stronger. 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.“
Newsom recommended eight additional counties close their bars, though he did not order them to do so. Those counties have been on the watch list for at least three days and include Riverside, Sacramento and San Bernardino. Two Bay Area counties on the advisory list, Contra Costa and Santa Clara, never allowed bars to open.
California is maintaining a watch list of counties whose data have indicated potential problems with coronavirus spread. The list now includes 15 counties, where collectively more than half of the state’s residents live. Counties land on the list if they have concerning increases of case rates, positive test results or hospitalizations. Having less than 20 percent of intensive care unit beds or 25 percent of ventilators available are also factors.
The governor and state health officials allowed bars to open in California on June 12 but gave county health officials the authority to keep them shut as long as they deemed fit. Most of California’s 58 counties subsequently allowed bars to reopen — including Los Angeles, the state’s largest with 10 million people, which gave those establishments the green light on June 19.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday on Twitter that he supports Newsom ordering bars to close in several counties, including his own. “As we started reopening more businesses, we cautioned that we may need to change course to protect public health from this deadly virus,” he said.
The state issued guidelines that asked bars to maintain social distance between patrons, eliminate seating at the actual bar counter and turn down the music volume to prevent shouting, which expels droplets farther distances. Newsom also has required face coverings in most public settings.
But photos from bars and nightlife districts have shown people congregating together without masks and waiting in lines without distancing. Several Sacramento bars have now closed on their own after learning they had a Covid-19 case in recent days.