SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Hours after San Diego County reopened dine-in restaurants and retail shopping Thursday, health officials saw “egregious” disregard for public health orders, resulting in one business being forcibly closed and notices from law enforcement that they would ramp up enforcement over Memorial Day weekend.
A short video clip played at Friday’s news briefing taken at El Prez, a popular Pacific Beach sports bar and restaurant, and showed dozens of people in close physical contact without face coverings standing at the bar. The restaurant was closed by the county and will “remain closed until further notice,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
“We believed we were following guidelines, but we were wrong. Simply, everything spiraled out of control,” El Prez wrote in a statement posted to Instagram Friday evening.
Fletcher said the vast majority of restaurateurs are following health orders and not endangering the public, but a few “bad faith actors” could seriously impact the county’s efforts to recover from the effects of COVID-19.
Undersheriff Mike Barnett said Friday that law enforcement was “very concerned” with what they saw.
“We run the real risk of having a setback,” he said. “The San Diego Sheriff’s Office provides services for nearly a million people, and we have only given out 137 citations so far and none in the last seven days. That’s one-one hundredth of 1%. We are not looking to increase this.”
Even so, Barnett said law enforcement will take time away from catching “real criminals” to first educate, seek compliance and ultimately enforce public health orders if needed.
San Diego County reported 119 new COVID-19 cases and one death Friday, raising the region’s totals to 6,434 cases and 242 deaths. The fatality reported Friday was a 35-year-old who had underlying health issues, said San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.
She said the county’s numbers continued to trend downward, but it would not take many incidents like that at El Prez to create more outbreaks, prolonging the pandemic and related health orders. San Diego County has more than 16,000 restaurants and food-preparation facilities, County Supervisor Greg Cox said Thursday.
Wooten encouraged people who witnessed businesses violating health orders to contact the non-emergency line of their local jurisdiction.
California approved the county’s request Wednesday night to allow dining at restaurants and in-store shopping, both with social-distancing restrictions.
Elected officials and business leaders alike showed optimism Thursday afternoon, but also cautioned San Diegans to be patient as the new normal fits into place.
Restaurants and shops must fill out the county’s Safe Reopening Plan form and post it publicly to reopen, Fletcher said in a tweet Wednesday night.
Some restaurants and shops completed this form ahead of time and are able to open Friday.
Some of the guidelines restaurants must adhere to include having tables six feet apart, having temperature screening of employees, requiring facial coverings on employees at all times and on customers unless they are seated, and encouraging reservations.
Retail stores have similar restrictions, including limiting the number of shoppers in stores to maintain social distancing and requiring facial coverings for employees and customers at all times.
Fletcher said that while the county tried to answer many of the broad questions from business owners and customers, it was impossible to foresee every scenario. He encouraged those with questions to call the county’s 211 number.
Jeff Rossman, president of the San Diego branch of the California Restaurant Association, urged diners to be patient with businesses, who were doing everything they could with limited supplies, information and staff.
“We encourage people to take their time,” he said, noting he would open his own two restaurants the first week of June. “Please don’t come in if you’re sick. Please be courteous, comply with signage and give yourselves extra time to comply. We’ve seen the long lines at casinos reopening, we don’t want people queuing. Wait in your car if possible until your table is ready.”
The county recorded 4,056 COVID-19 tests Wednesday, for 124,615 cumulative tests.
Wooten reported 73 active outbreaks in the county Friday, 52 of which occurred in congregate living facilities which could be traced to 1,454 cases and 120 deaths.
Valley View Casino & Hotel and Harrah’s Resort Southern California both reopened with restrictions Friday.
Jamul Casino reopened its doors Thursday, Sycuan reopened Wednesday and Viejas Casino and Resort reopened Monday.
Restrictions at all five casinos include bingo and poker remaining closed, restaurants operating for limited hours and gaming areas requiring social distancing between players and staff.
Tables games will be limited to a maximum of three players per table and every other slot machine will be turned off to further encourage space between players.
Patrons and staff will also be required to undergo temperature checks, wear masks at all times and practice physical distancing.
All five casinos are on tribal land, meaning they are not subject to the same state regulations that have limited most business operations in California.