Indoor dining, church services and more to stop again as county falls into most restrictive COVID-19 tier
Restaurants, places of worship, gyms and movie theaters must cease indoor operations by 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14.
The day many have dreaded for months has come to pass. San Diego County fell to the most restrictive level of the state’s COVID-19 reopening system Nov. 10, meaning that restaurants, houses of worship, movie theaters and many other businesses and organizations must cease or significantly reduce their indoor operations by 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14.
In the state’s latest tier report, the region received an adjusted coronavirus case rate of 8.9 per 100,000 residents, again over the limit of 7. Together with last week’s score of 7.4, San Diego County has gone two consecutive weeks with out-of-bounds numbers that force it to fall from the red tier to purple, the lowest of the four levels in the coronavirus risk ranking system.
San Diego County was not alone. It was among 11 counties statewide to fall a tier in the latest report as a fall surge in cases felt most strongly in the middle of the country begins to show itself in California. Sacramento and Stanislaus counties joined San Diego in a fall to purple.
The pain will be felt most strongly in restaurants, movie theaters and houses of worship, which, according to state rules, will be required to stop indoor operations, as they did July 13, a month after local public health officials allowed gyms, hotels, bars and other businesses to reopen.
Restaurants, houses of worship, gyms, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums can continue to operate outdoors only. Retail stores and shopping centers must cut their indoor capacity to 25 percent from 50 percent.
Hair and nail salons, barbershops and other personal care services can remain open indoors with coronavirus protections.
Many restaurateurs are wringing their hands and rebalancing their books as they prepare for another indoor shutdown that some worry could kill their businesses for good. While outdoor dining has been a godsend for many, the drop in temperatures in the fall and winter has them worried that patrons may decide to forgo sitting outside under a heat lamp.
As the region has teetered week after week on the brink of falling into the purple tier, many local business owners have said they will refuse to comply with the state’s orders to move backward.
It remains to be seen how the apparent impasse will be resolved.
To date, local law enforcement agencies have been reluctant to cite those who break public health mandates, but Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, recently sent a letter to every jurisdiction in the area asking each to “step up enforcement efforts around egregious violators.”
The county health department also is sending 40,000 masks to local law enforcement departments for officers to hand out when they see someone with an uncovered face.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the county’s enforcement tip line, (858) 694-2900, is staffed by officials taking complaints related to health orders. Those complaints also can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“No one wants to be punitive, no one wants any business or any entity to be closed at all, but the simple reality is, we are now faced with an increase in spread and transmission that threatens our community,” Fletcher said.
Supervisor Jim Desmond said he felt that movement into the purple tier was too harsh but the county didn’t have many options other than complying with the state order. County staff tried to persuade the state to let the region stay in the red tier, but state officials wouldn’t budge.
“There’s not much we can do other than plead to the state,” Desmond said. “Our hands are tied.”
For San Diego County to turn back to the red tier, it will need two consecutive case rates under 7. With the number of new daily reported cases now consistently over 400, no one should expect a rapid reversal, officials said.
“It’s gonna take awhile, so we are asking everyone to be patient,” Wooten said. “I know that’s a lot to ask, but we have to stay the course.”
Rock Church, which has five brick-and-mortar locations across the county, including in Point Loma, hasn’t held indoor services since churches were first ordered to close, and only started hosting outdoor services about six weeks ago.
“We’re taking this [pandemic] seriously,” said Travis Gibson, campus pastor at The Rock. “We want to show our congregation that we care about them physically, that we care about them spiritually, and we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure all of those needs are met.”
Much of the church’s congregation has chosen to watch services online, Gibson said. About 50,000 to 75,000 people stream the Sunday service each weekend.
But church leaders knew some were hungry for in-person options, so they put together an outdoor service plan that includes mask requirements, temperature checks and reminders to socially distance.
About 900 to 1,000 people attend in-person services each Sunday. Sometimes the weather makes outdoor services a little uncomfortable or airplanes overhead muffle the sermon, but congregants haven’t seemed to mind, Gibson said.
“We love our city and we love our church and we’re going to do what we can to make sure people can worship safely outdoors,” Gibson said.
Falling to the purple tier prevents any K-12 schools that have not already reopened for in-person education from doing so until red tier status is regained. Those that are open do not have to close.
A majority of the county’s skilled nursing homes had been allowed to resume indoor visitations in recent months. Now, with the county shifted into the purple tier, those visits will be restricted to specific patient groups.
Indoor visitations will be allowed only for patients who are pediatric; in labor or delivery; living with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities or cognitive impairments; and those nearing end of life.
— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writers Lori Weisberg and Phillip Molnar contributed to this report.