Restaurants, patrons remain defiant despite soaring COVID-19 deaths

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CARLSBAD, Calif. — Many restaurants and businesses are still defying health orders despite surging coronavirus cases and deaths.

“What I represent are the silent victims, that’s what I’ve termed them as. The silent victims are the employees,” Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant owner Belynn Gonzales said.

Her restaurant in downtown Carlsbad Village is one example of restaurants across the county that are still operating business as usual, including indoor dining. 

“Each employee of mine has two full-time jobs. When they arrive, they’ve already worked a full-time job. This is their second job,” Gonzales said.

There are several social media accounts devoted to letting people know which restaurants are open indoors despite the regional stay-at-home order in place for San Diego County. Business owners and patrons continue to defy the health order as deaths soar in the county and state.

California’s death toll passed 30,000 this weekend. It took California six months to record its first 10,000 deaths. In barely a month, the total rose from 20,000 to 30,000, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Records show San Diego County recorded 232 COVID-19 deaths last week. As of Sunday, the county had 1,857 confirmed deaths. ICU capacity was at 16% with 407 patients in intensive care and 1,747 in county hospitals.

FOX 5 asked mental health professional Jennifer Guerguis what could be motivating restaurant owners and patrons to defy restrictions.

“We’re talking about meeting basic needs, physiological needs,” Guerguis said. “Maybe these business owners are small businesses, so they’re the head of household. They’re in charge of supporting their families.”

Guerguis said when they’re told to shutdown their businesses, they face tough decisions psychologically.

“Being able to pay their mortgage, and when you’re stuck facing those really tough decisions, they’re not seeing, ultimately, the safety issues. They can easily ignore that, because their main concern and their priority is just feeding their children,” she said.

The county has issued 21 cease-and-desist orders in the past 11 days and warned business owners about possible $1,000 fines. 

Garcia said she kept her employees on staff and paid them out of her own pocket during the first shutdown. This time, she says that’s not an option.

“I am very worried about losing a liquor license, but it’s also our constitutional right to make a living,” Garcia said.

The county says the public can report businesses that aren’t following the health order by calling 858-694-2900 or emailing SafeReopeningComplianceTeam@sdcounty.ca.gov.

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