SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered bars that have opened in seven California counties, including Los Angeles, to immediately close and urged bars in eight other counties to do the same, saying the coronavirus was rapidly spreading in those parts of the state and that bar settings create a higher risk of transmission.
Los Angeles is the most populous county affected by the mandatory bar closure order. The other counties are: Fresno, San Joaquin, Kings, Kern, Imperial and Tulare.
State officials asked eight other counties — Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Sacramento, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Stanislaus — to issue local health orders closing bars.
“Californians must remain vigilant against this virus,” Newsom said in 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."
On Saturday, the state reported a rise of nearly 6,000 confirmed virus cases from the day before. Nearly 5,900 people have died from coronavirus complications in the state. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Public health officials consider bars to be the highest-risk businesses during the pandemic because alcohol consumption reduces inhibition and impairs judgment, leading people to forget using face coverings or keep a safe distance from each other. Raising one's voice in a loud bar leads to greater projection of droplets, they said.
Beyond the higher risk of transmission in bar settings, they said contact tracing is also more challenging because of the constant mixing of patrons and a lack of record-keeping of people coming and going.
The list of counties impacted by Sunday’s order was based on daily reports on the spread of the virus, state officials said. Counties that have been on the state’s watch list for between three and 14 days are being asked to close bars through local health orders. Those on the state’s watch list for more than 14 days are required to immediately close any bar that has reopened for business.
“We are actively monitoring COVID-19 across the state and working closely with counties where there are increased rates and concerning patterns of transmission,” the state public health officer, Dr. Sonia Angell, said. “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.”
The order comes as California grapples with a rise in positive coronavirus cases, especially among younger adults, following social gatherings over Memorial Day weekend, reopened businesses in many places, including restaurants, fitness centers and hair salons, and widespread street protests against police brutality.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.