A bar in Old Town. File photo by Ken Stone

Amid a surge in new coronavirus cases locally, San Diego County public health officials ordered bars to close after midnight on Tuesday.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said bars, wineries and breweries that do not serve food will have to close ahead of the July 4 weekend to slow the spread of the virus.

The San Diego order follows one on Sunday by Gov. Gavin Newsom that cited Los Angeles and six other California counties.

Fletcher acknowledged that San Diego County was not on the Governor’s list, but he said public health officials want to get ahead of the situation and avoid a potential return to lockdown as cases rise.

“It’s better if we can take incremental steps to dial things back,” said Fletcher, who is himself in quarantine after a possible exposure.

Fletcher cited the recent surge in cases and the “steady increase we’ve seen in COVID-related hospitalizations.”

“We have to take action now in an effort to slow the spread,” he said.

Fletcher said bars are a particular concern because patrons tend to stay a long time and interact closely.

“Alcohol consumption impairs judgment and may lead to less compliance with physical distancing guidelines,” he said.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, noted that four of the community outbreaks in the past week were at restaurants and bars.

The order to close bars came as the county Health and Human Services Agency reported a record 498 new coronavirus cases on Monday with the 14-day rolling average of positive cases rising to 4.1%.

Fletcher said that while bars are being closed, public heath officials are also concerned about private gatherings during the July 4 holiday.

“We are strongly encouraging San Diegans to please be responsible and avoid gatherings,” he said. “We have seen a number of outbreaks tied to individuals having parties at their homes.”

Supervisor Greg Cox warned that the backyard barbecues that are traditional on July 4 could become a “recipe for disaster” amid the pandemic.

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Chris Jennewein

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