Bay Area counties back off indoor dining as virus surges

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Indoor restaurants and outdoor bars in San Francisco will not open next week as planned, while in Santa Clara County officials expect to reopen hair and nail salons but will also hold off on indoor dining because of rising coronavirus infection rates.

A Northern California county, meanwhile, authorized fines on Tuesday of up to $10,000 for businesses that repeatedly violate health orders.

Despite the variations in what's open for business, health officials from both San Francisco Bay Area counties on Tuesday stressed the need for people to stay home, wear a face covering when in public, and practice social distancing in order to coexist with a stubborn virus that's “going to be with us for a long time."

“We flattened and — some would say we crushed — the curve once and we can do it again,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco's public health director. “The virus is still out there, and there’s more of it out there than ever before."

The two Bay Area counties have been among the most aggressive in battling the pandemic, part of a wider coalition that implemented a regional stay-home order in mid-March that public health officials across the country lauded for slowing the virus before sick people could overwhelm hospitals.

But holidays, family gatherings, more people going back to work and general fatigue are contributing to a coronavirus surge across the country. California on Tuesday reported more than 6,000 newly identified cases for a total of nearly 280,000 cases. The death toll climbed by 111 to nearly 6,500.

Supervisors in Yolo County, just west of Sacramento, meanwhile set fines up to $10,000 for repeated business violations, though spokeswoman Jenny Tan could not say if that was the state's highest.

Fines now range from $25 to $500 for non-commercial violators and from $250 to $10,000 for commercial violators.

“It gives us an opportunity to work with that business, depending how many times we have to come back or how willfully they’re not complying,” Tan said. Officials can add to the fine for each day of violations, she said.

"That’s why it can go up to $10,000, but we really want to push for education first,” she said.

An increase in confirmed cases of more than 200% in the last four weeks "necessitates an increase in enforcement,” board chairman Gary Sandy said in a statement.

The increases in cases and hospitalizations have been so alarming that Gov. Gavin Newsom last week ordered outdoor bars, indoor dining, museums and other indoor areas to close for at least three weeks in 23 of 58 counties, including the two most populous, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Marin County on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge shut down its indoor restaurants Monday after letting them reopen only a week ago. In that county, an outbreak hit San Quentin State Prison.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium planned to reopen this week, but said it was postponing until further notice after being placed on the state's watch list.

Even the more remote counties of Yuba, Sutter and Placer, which had been the first to widely reopen after seeing little virus transmission there, are expected to halt indoor dining later this week because of rising numbers, The Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday.

Los Angeles County, with a quarter of the state's population, reported 4,015 additional cases Tuesday —its highest daily count yet due in part to a backlog of test results. The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

Nearly 2,000 people remain hospitalized in the county, much higher than the 1,350 to 1,450 daily hospitalizations three weeks ago.

In Southern California, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, said officials are concerned about rising hospitalizations, even though many patients are younger and might fare better.

“Our health system is now substantially impacted,” Kaiser told county supervisors Tuesday. “We are not at that flat line we hoped we would be at this point in the pandemic.”

Riverside County saw hospitalizations rise 15% to 495 between Thursday and Monday, said Bruce Barton, director of the county’s emergency management department. He said six of the county’s 17 acute care hospitals are using additional ICU beds under surge plans.

The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized are Riverside County residents, he said.

San Francisco was among several Northern California counties that had paused plans to reopen. Nail and hair salons did not reopen in June as planned, and now restaurants won't resume indoor dining next week.

Colfax, the county's health director, said Tuesday that the community's infection rate is climbing and hospitalizations have increased 25% over the past week.

After receiving permission from the state, Santa Clara County can now allow most businesses but the most risky to reopen next week.

At a Tuesday briefing, the county's health director, Dr. Sara Cody, emphasized personal responsibility in cutting infections, rather than enforcement and business operators clamping down. People taking off masks indoors bring a greater risk of transmission, she said.

“We are not going to have indoor dining any time soon," Cody said.

She said there are three factors people should remember: outdoors is far safer than indoors, more distance is better than less distance, and briefer contact with others is safer than longer contact.

“We know this pandemic is going to be with us for a long time,” she said. “It is going to be a long haul.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

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Associated Press writers Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Amy Taxin in Orange County, John Antczak in Los Angeles, and Cuneyt Dil and Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this story.