California governor Gavin Newsom has directed the closure of all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs in the state and called for all seniors age 65 years or older to stay in home isolation to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The directive came Sunday as it was announced that the virus had killed six people in California, with 335 cases confirmed – now the third largest number of cases in the nation, after Washington and New York.
“These are profoundly significant steps and they are significant steps from two days ago,” Newsom said in a news conference. “We’re guided deeply by what’s happening, not just by anxiety, not just by fear, but by a very pragmatic response to meet this moment without creating other unintended consequences.”
The announcement affects a $2.8bn nightlife industry, with an estimated 4,765 businesses in California. While Newsom directed the closure of all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs, he allowed restaurants to stay open, but at half-capacity, acknowledging that people need access to food.
The call for seniors and Californians with chronic conditions to self-isolate will affect at least 5.3 million people. Newsom said the state is working on ensuring that those in self-isolation will be able to have meals, medication and other needs delivered to them.
Newsom also tightened the guidelines on visitation to seniors, limiting them only to end-of-life visits, including in hospital settings.
“We need to prioritize our focus,” Newsom said. “The most important thing is to protect our most vulnerable.”
All Newsom’s directives have been guidelines, not orders. Other states and jurisdictions have gone further, with the governor of Ohio issuing an order to close all restaurants and bars in the state and the mayor of San Francisco fully prohibiting gatherings of 100 or more.
The announcement is the latest in a series of steps that California has taken to proactively curb the spread of the virus. Last week, state public health officials called for large gatherings of 250 people or more to be rescheduled or canceled. On Monday, 51% of the state’s school districts will close school for 85% of the state’s students, Newsom said.
Newsom said he felt that California has not reached the point of a “police state” where officials need to enforce such guidelines. “If you want to set up a framework of Martial Law … we have the capacity to do that,” he said. “But we are not in that moment feeling like that is a necessity.”
He pointed out that statewide, “people moved to embrace our last guidance at scale”.
“Not only did cities and counties embrace our last guidance, they brought our last guidance in at a more granular level,” he said. “I’m confident these guidelines will be well-received and will be appropriately enforced.”
Newsom also announced efforts to expand testing capacity and to bring hundreds of new hospital beds online in the coming days in temporary facilities. He said the state was working to procure hotels and motels for the homeless population living in encampments, as well as an additional 450 trailers.
Bars and restaurants across California have already been hit by the economic slowdown caused by the virus. On Sunday evening in Oakland, as the news of the governor’s announcement sank in, some bars began to close their doors as others wrestled with fears of how to stay afloat.
The Cat House, a bar in the city’s Grand Lake district, was shuttered, a note on the door saying it was closed because of Newsom’s order. Staff at other local bars which were still open said that there were many unanswered questions about the governor’s guidance. Would anyone actually enforce it, and come to bars to tell them to shut down? If bars started serving food, could they remain open as restaurants?
Many restaurants were struggling despite being allowed to remain open, said Ignacio Perez, one of the owners of Chica, an Oakland restaurant that serves Mexican American food. Even before the governor’s announcement, business had fallen 50% this week in Oakland, and 75% at his restaurant in San Francisco, he said.
Other bars had preempted the governor’s guidance after deeming the risks to the community of staying open to be too great. Jirka Jireh, the manager of natural wine shop and bar Ordinaire, said the closure of all bars and restaurants in Paris was a tipping point – while the business plans keep its retail wine shop open, they stopped serving drinks on Saturday.
“We’re taking it day by day,” said Jireh. Some regulars have come in to buy cases of wine and tipped 20%, to help support the employees.
Cormac Lachaal, a bartender at Ordinaire, said he saw the value of the governor’s guidance. “It’s necessary to take public health into account and create boundaries for people,” he said.
At an Oakland dive bar, some regulars had heard the news that afternoon and immediately headed in “for one last drink”, said bartender Emma McDonald. “It’s weird. Bars are the places to go no matter what happens,” she said.
She had a container of bleach wipes behind the bar that afternoon, and said she had even sanitized the dominoes.
McDonald was unsure if she would be working tomorrow, or what lay ahead for the industry and its customers. Only one thing, she said, was clear: “We’re all in limbo together, listening to music.”