Empty bar in downtown San Diego
An empty bar in downtown Los Angeles. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Gov. Gavin Newsom Sunday ordered bars in Los Angeles and six other counties to close to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, as California experiences a surge in new cases and evidence of rising community transmission.

“NEW: Due to the rising spread of #COVID19, CA is ordering bars to close in Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, San Joaquin, and Tulare, while recommending they close in Contra Costa, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, & Ventura,” Newsom tweeted at 12:17 p.m.

“We are actively monitoring COVID-19 across the state and working closely with counties where there are increased rates and concerning patterns of transmission,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, the state’s public health director. “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.”

It is the first rollback of the Golden State’s reopening in a major population center, although on Thursday Newsom urged Imperial County to return to lockdown.

The California Department of Public Health guidance said that “brewpubs, breweries, bars, and pubs, should close until those establishments are allowed to resume operation per state guidance and local permission, unless they are offering sit-down, dine-in meals. Alcohol can only be sold in the same transaction as a meal.”

The state’s news release says that “bars are social environments where groups of people mix. In these environments alcohol consumption reduces inhibition and impairs judgment, leading to reduced compliance with recommended core personal protective measures, such as the mandatory use of face coverings and the practice of social and physical distancing. Bars are generally louder environments requiring raised voices leading to the greater projection of droplets. These factors present a higher likelihood of transmission of COVID-19 within groups, between groups, and among the workforce.”

Law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles said they were just learning of the order along with everyone else.

“We just got the notice. But as of right now, we have not been given any guidance, which way. It’s breaking news,” Officer Rosario Cervantes of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations Section told City News Service.

Los Angeles County officials have reported “significant increases” in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and test positivity rates in recent days, including 2,169 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 23 additional deaths reported Saturday.

Those numbers brought the county’s totals to 95,371 cases and 3,285 fatalities.

According the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the seven-day average of daily new cases is more than 1,900, an increase from the 1,379 average two weeks ago. There are 1,698 people currently hospitalized, which is higher than the 1,350 to 1,450 daily hospitalizations seen in recent weeks.

And, with test results now available for more than one million individuals, 9% are testing positive. The cumulative positive rate has increased from 8% to 9%, and the seven-day average of the daily positive rate has increased from 5.8% two weeks ago to 8.6%.

Some officials have attributed the rise in overall cases to increases in testing, but Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said repeatedly in recent days that the metrics clearly demonstrate an increase in community spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“While it’s disappointing to take a step back on our economic recovery journey, it’s critical that we protect the health of our residents and protect the capacity in our healthcare system,” said Ferrer. “I implore that our residents and businesses follow the Public Health directives that will keep us healthy, safe and on the pathway to recovery. Otherwise, we are quickly moving toward overwhelming our healthcare system and seeing even more devastating illness and death.”

Updated at 9:05 p.m., Sunday, June 28, 2020

City News Service and Reuters contributed to this article.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.