County won’t enforce COVID-19 closures for restaurants while it reviews new ruling

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SAN DIEGO – San Diego County says it’s pausing COVID-19 closure enforcement against restaurants and live entertainment businesses after a judge Wednesday ruled that officials can’t enforce a regional stay-at-home order against two local strip clubs.

“The State and the County are analyzing the scope of the ruling and discussing next steps which includes seeking clarity from the court,” the county said in a statement.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil, who previously granted a similar temporary restraining order for Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club and Pacers Showgirls International, wrote in his nine-page ruling that the state of California and San Diego County have not provided evidence tying the spread of COVID-19 or lack of intensive care unit bed capacity to live adult entertainment or businesses with restaurant service.

Wohlfeil’s ruling also applied to “San Diego County businesses with restaurant service,” though it was unclear exactly what businesses that portion of the ruling would apply to.

Supervisor Jim Desmond celebrated the ruling on Twitter Wednesday, saying he “hope(s) it’s not too late for many restaurants hanging on.”

“How this all plays out, that remains to be seen?” Desmond said in a tweet. “We assume the State will appeal and my colleagues voted to appeal along with the State. @KristinDGaspar and I voted to not appeal their decision. We believe that businesses should be allowed to safely open.”

In a statement to FOX 5, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said they were “disappointed” with Wohlfeil’s decision, but that officials “remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting the health and safety of all Californians.” Newsom’s office also is reviewing its legal options for next steps.

Desmond’s tweets already drew criticism from fellow Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

“2020 is so strange,” Fletcher said in a response to Desmond. “On a day with record number of ICU patients and hospitals telling us they are cancelling cancer patients have their tumors removed, my colleague is bragging about fighting to keep strip clubs open.”

The ruling comes after the clubs recently received cease-and-desist letters from the California Attorney General’s Office, which stated Cheetahs and Pacers were operating in violation of the Dec. 3 stay-at-home policy barring outdoor and indoor dining, as well as large gatherings.

Attorney Jason Sacuzzo, who represents Pacers, argued there hasn’t been a single case of COVID-19 transmission traced to either club since Wohlfeil issued the temporary restraining order in early November, a claim Wohlfeil referenced in his ruling.

Deputy Attorney General Patty Li, representing the state, argued Wednesday that the condition of the virus has changed since Wohlfeil’s initial ruling, citing increased COVID-19 case and death numbers, as well as a reduction in ICU capacity in the Southern California region, which she said was currently at 0.5%.

The ruling is at odds with another San Diego judge’s finding in a separate case that denied a request from local restaurants and gyms to reopen. A hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction in that case is slated for Friday afternoon.

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