Indoor activities at gyms, salons, malls and churches must close again due to coronavirus

California Gov. Gavin Newsom wears a protective mask on his face
Gov. Gavin Newsom wears a protective mask while speaking to reporters June 9 in Oakland during the coronavirus outbreak.

Once again, San Diego County health officials are following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lead, going along with a new order for the 30 counties on the state’s COVID-19 watch list to shut down indoor operations for a significant number of businesses and organizations, from gyms to salons to churches, by the morning of Wednesday, July 15.

The new edict came July 13, just six days after local restaurants, bars and family entertainment businesses, including movie theaters, faced similar restrictions designed to drive down increasing coronavirus rates. San Diego County was added to the watch list on the Fourth of July weekend after the number of local cases per capita exceeded state guidelines for three consecutive days.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said during a briefing that the latest coronavirus curtailment was not easy.

“We feel tremendously bad about having to be put in the position of starting you up and then having to limit your operations,” Fletcher said. “Rest assured, I don’t believe that anyone takes any of these steps lightly.”

The indoor closures (unless they can be modified to operate outside or by curbside pickup) include:

  • Fitness centers
  • Worship services
  • Protests
  • Offices for “nonessential” sectors
  • Personal care services such as nail salons, body waxing and tattoo parlors
  • Hair salons and barbershops
  • Malls

San Diego County has seen the number of positive coronavirus tests increase rapidly in recent weeks. An additional 419 cases announced July 13 pushed the total to 20,348. The region has recorded 422 COVID-related deaths.

The 14-day rolling average of the percentage of positive cases has been climbing since mid-June and is around 6 percent. Though significantly higher than it was a few weeks ago, San Diego County’s 14-day rate continues to be lower than the state’s, which, according to the California Department of Public Health, is 7.4 percent.

San Diego continues to register a large-enough number of positive test results among its 3.3 million residents to put the region over the state’s trigger threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 residents as measured by a 14-day average. On July 13, the rate sat at 137 per 100,000.

San Diego County officials leading the local coronavirus response have repeatedly said in recent weeks that their decisions on which businesses and activities should cease or modify their operations would be based on the available data. The idea was to focus most intently on the places associated with the greatest numbers of infections.

Unlike restaurants, especially those with bars, personal care businesses have not been among the daily list of community outbreaks shared by the health department daily.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said a lack of outbreaks is not enough.

“While there might not be an outbreak, individuals are associated with these particular locations, so we are following the data,” Wooten said.

The county has not yet provided a full accounting of infections by business or location type, despite regular requests from the public and media.

Wooten added that the county’s code compliance division is working with the state to put together “strike teams” that will enforce the rules. No information was immediately available on when those teams might start their work.

Decisions to go along with the governor’s recommendations have continued to chafe some on the county Board of Supervisors, especially Supervisor Jim Desmond, who was quick to put out a statement July 13 that called the move “unwarranted.”

“Our hospital numbers are not going up. Our testing is focused on the most vulnerable and those with symptoms, which is why you see an increase,” Desmond said. “In light of today’s decision, we must look at all options so that our businesses have a chance of surviving.”

The shift to outdoor-only operations will be easier on some businesses than others.

Aided by an executive order from Mayor Kevin Faulconer that waived permits for outdoor dining, many restaurants in San Diego have begun shifting their operations to sidewalks and patios.

But ambiguity remains about whether businesses such as gyms and retail stores will get the same treatment.

Retailers at the region’s outdoor shopping malls, such as Westfield UTC, likely won’t see much change.

Several church leaders in San Diego County said they will continue to follow the governor’s latest health orders, though some are frustrated at the back-and-forth process.

Some said their churches are not affected by the new order prohibiting indoor services because they weren’t holding any, while others said they were about to start and now have to change their plans.

In May, Newsom amended restrictions on churches and allowed meetings of no more than 25 percent of a room’s capacity, or 100 people, whichever number was lower. The new restrictions do not allow any indoor seating. ◆