UPDATE: L.A. County amends health order to close all bars after Newsom’s latest directive

Bartenders at La Cocina on Bouquet Canyon Road prepare the restaurant's Cadillac Margarita. February 18, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Los Angeles County Public Health officials announced Sunday they would amend their public health officer order to require all bars and wineries to close after Gov. Gavin Newsom said these establishments must close immediately in seven counties, citing a COVID-19 surge in several parts of California. 

The other counties include Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin and Tulare, the governor said in a tweet. He added that closing these establishments was only a recommendation for Contra Costa, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and Ventura counties. 

State officials attributed the closure of bars and nightlife establishments in these seven counties to daily COVID-19 cases that have increased, they said Sunday. 

“We are actively monitoring COVID-19 across the state and working closely with counties where there are increased rates and concerning patterns of transmission,” Sonia Angell, state public health director, said in a prepared statement. “Closing bars in these counties is one of a number of targeted actions counties are implementing across our state to slow the virus’ spread and reduce risk.”

On Monday, Newsom clarified why these seven counties were singled out, saying these counties have been on a “watch list” for 14 consecutive days.

“Once over a two-week period and you’re still on that watch list, and we’re still seeing an increase in spread and transmission, that then triggers the kind of decision that we made (Sunday),” he said Monday. “The bottom line is, we’re doing this because we have seen an increase in the spread of this virus.” 

Statewide, COVID-19 data in a total of 19 counties, including L.A. County, are being closely monitored, or on that “watch list,” an increase of five counties since last week. These counties had three consecutive days of concern due to elevated data in one or more of the following three areas: elevated disease transmission, increasing hospitalization or limited hospital capacity. 

In L.A. County, it remains the elevated disease transmission that is of concern, with county figures showing 171.9 cases per 100,000 population last week, which is far greater than the 25 cases per 100,000 population threshold for the state. 

Los Angeles County’s new order now requires that all bars, breweries, wineries and tasting rooms close “unless they are offering sit-down, dine-in meals. This includes closing bar areas in restaurants.” 

Public Health officials reported Sunday “significant increases in COVID-19 diagnoses,” with 2,542 new cases and 20 new deaths. The totals reached 97,894 and 3,305, respectively. Of that total, the Santa Clarita Valley marked a tally of 3,078, which includes cases from a Pitchess Detention Center outbreak. 

“There has been a sharp increase in new cases and hospitalizations,” read a Public Health news release Sunday. “The timing of these increases is in line with the reopening of key sectors, including bars, which are places where people remove their face covering to drink while they may be socializing with people not in their households.” 

Statewide, 211,243 cases have been confirmed as of Sunday. Newsom has highlighted concern over the increase in California’s positivity rate, which has climbed from 4.6% to 5.1% over the past week. 

“The reason we started to reopen our economy was we saw that the positivity rate remained very, very stable, (along with the) number of hospitalizations,” Newsom said Monday. “(The positivity rate) for many, many weeks, arguably a few months, was incredibly stable, and just in the last few weeks, you’re starting to see, when you take a closer look at the positivity rate, an increase that raised the concerns that led to the decisions we made over the weekend.” 

Over the past week, Newsom had reiterated that because developments with COVID-19 remain ongoing, the state has toggled back in easing additional restrictions and has even advised Imperial County to reinstitute stay-at-home orders. 

“We are acknowledging as a state well over a week ago that we’re not moving forward, that we’d already paused the reopening certain sectors of our economy with guidelines that were coming out now,” he said Friday. 

Sunday’s announcement comes after Los Angeles County modified its health order on June 18 that allowed bars, wineries, breweries and casinos, as well as nail salons and tattoo parlors, to reopen as early as June 19. 

Under the county’s guidelines, these establishments had to prove compliance before opening, such as making sure employees and customers wear masks and bars, for example, would discontinue seating of customers where they cannot maintain 6 feet of distance. 

Businesses that must remain closed in Los Angeles County, now adding bars and nightspots once again, include public entertainment venues such as movie theaters, theme parks and concert venues, family entertainment centers like arcades and bowling alleys, and playgrounds. All events and gatherings remain prohibited. 

Signal Staff Writer Emily Alvarenga contributed to this report.

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