Riverside County orders bars to close, Ventura County limits alcohol service hours following Newsom’s request

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A pedestrian's reflection is seen while walking past bottles of liquor at a bar in Los Angeles on June 29, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images)

A pedestrian’s reflection is seen while walking past bottles of liquor at a bar in Los Angeles on June 29, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images)

All bars without food in Riverside County are ordered to close starting Tuesday in response to a concerning surge in coronavirus spread, while Ventura County is issuing modifications for businesses previously allowed to serve alcohol, health officials said Monday.

The rollback of reopening comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday recommended Riverside, Ventura and six other counties close their drinking establishments. The closures were mandatory in seven additional counties, including Los Angeles.

Officials in San Bernardino County, where Newsom also recommended bars close, had not revealed the fate of the establishments as of Monday night.

Riverside County will still allow alcohol service with food

In Riverside County, restaurants, pubs and breweries with dine-in service can still sell alcoholic beverages, but the drinks must be sold in the same transaction as a meal. Bars with food must follow the same coronavirus protocols as restaurants, health officials said.

Bars had reopened on June 12, along with other higher-risk settings like gyms and hair salons. The closure does not extend to similar businesses, like wineries.

“People don’t social distance well after a couple drinks, and it’s one of the hardest environments to trace contacts in,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer, said in a statement.

Kaiser said he hopes further closures won’t be necessary, but “it all depends on what every one of us as a county do to slow more spread.”

The order comes after intensive care units in the county hit 99% capacity — a figure that prompted U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, a medical doctor, to call for immediate action.

County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said the “health crisis” has been growing since mid-June — around the same time bars were given the green-light to reopen.

Officials with the county Department of Environmental Health will enforce the bar closures and were expected to contact businesses impacted to explain the order. Establishments that don’t comply may face additional action, officials said.

Ventura County adds time limit, restricts people gathering outside their household

In Ventura County, officials had not yet permitted establishments that don’t serve food to reopen for alcohol service. That means breweries, bars, pubs, wineries and distilleries previously allowed to open don’t have to shut their doors — but they will have to make some modifications.

Starting Wednesday, dine-in service must close by 10 p.m. and dining time will be limited to an hour and a half. Live music won’t be allowed, and customers must sit with members of their own household.

“It is imperative that community members only gather with members of their household remain socially distanced and wear masks in public spaces,” county public health Director Rigo Vargas said in a statement.

It’s unclear how, or if, the restriction on people dining with others outside their household will be enforced. The establishments must still follow state guidelines and should encourage take-out or delivery service when possible, officials said.

“You are much more likely to run into someone who has no symptoms but is positive if you gather with others,” said Dr. Robert Levin, the county’s public health officer.

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