Responding to continued spikes in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday ordered a halt to indoor dining and barred other indoor activities at businesses such as wineries, museums and casinos in counties that have been on the state's COVID-19 "watch list,'' including Los Angeles and Orange.
"The bottom line is, the spread of this virus continues at a rate that is particularly concerning,'' Newsom said from Sacramento. "We're seeing parts of the state where we are seeing an increase not only in the total number of positive cases but a significant increase in the total number of people that are getting tested that are testing positive, meaning the positivity rate, not just the total case rate, is beginning to go up to a degree that obviously generates some concern.''
In addition to shuttering many indoor business activities, Newsom also announced the creation of Multi-Agency Strike Teams that will target businesses that have been operating without meeting health guidelines -- as he phrased it, businesses that have been "thumbing their nose'' or "reticent'' to take steps to protect employees and customers.
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The strike teams will include various state agencies, including the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, CalOSHA, Department of Business Oversight, Department of Consumer Affairs and the California Highway Patrol.
"When we talk about compliance, this isn't just talking about mask compliance, this is talking about health and safety in our meat-packing facilities,'' he said. "One should not have to put their life at risk to go to work as an essential worker. "... It's more education. I'm not coming out with a fist. We want to come out with an open heart, recognize the magnitude of these modifications ... and what it means to small businessmen and women, what it means to communities, what it means to the economic vibrancy and health of our state, and in turn our nation.''
In ordering a halt to indoor business activities, Newsom said affected businesses in the 19-county ``watch list'' area are not being ordered to close entirely, but instead restrict themselves to outdoor operations. For restaurants without outdoor dining space, the order will likely force many to revert to carry-out operations.
"This doesn't mean restaurants shut down, it means we're trying to take many activities, these concentrated activities, and move them outdoors, which is a way of mitigating the spread of this virus,'' Newsom said.
The ban on indoor operations will last for three weeks. The order affects restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums, and cardrooms. He said the state is working with tribal nations that operate casinos to determine guidelines that could allow them to continue operating.
Newsom had already ordered bars closed in Los Angeles County, but he ordered Wednesday that bars also be closed in all other counties on the state's watch list.
In Southern California, Orange and Riverside counties have already ordered bars to close ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. San Diego County has also ordered a bar closure, even though it is not on the watch list.
Counties earn spots on the state's watch list by falling short on select criteria, such as the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and the overall positivity rate among people tested for the virus.
Newsom fell short of ordering all beaches to close across the state for the holiday weekend, but he closed all parking facilities at state beaches in Southern California and the Bay Area. In counties that have ordered local beach closures, state beaches will also close, Newsom said.
Los Angeles County has ordered a closure of all beaches for the Fourth of July weekend. Orange and San Diego counties have not issued such an order, but Ventura County also plans to close its beaches.
The governor also encouraged -- but did not mandate -- all counties on the watch list to consider cancelling all Fourth of July fireworks displays to prevent large-scale gatherings of people that could lead to spread of the virus. Los Angeles County has already issued such an order, but Orange County has not, although Laguna Beach has already voluntarily canceled its display.
"We want to again remind each and every one of you that if we want to be independent from COVID-19, we have to be much more vigilant in terms of maintaining our physical distancing from others and be much more vigilant as it relates to being in situations where we are transmitting COVID-19,'' he said.
In his briefing, Newsom praised the overall efforts of counties to enforce health orders to prevent the spread of the virus, but he again warned that counties falling short in that area could face a loss of millions of dollars in state funding.
He also again warned residents to avoid public gatherings over the holiday weekend, including family gatherings, and he again urged everyone to wear face coverings and practice social distancing in public.
He said gathering with family and friends is an "understandable impulse'' on the Fourth of July holiday as a way of celebrating independence.
"Clearly that spirit we appreciate and deeply respect, and I think patriotism -- at least in a COVID-19 environment -- can be expressed a little bit differently with consideration of our independence from COVID-19 that needs to come with conditions and considerations on wearing masks and making sure we're physically distancing.''