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La Jolla yoga studio gets county COVID-19 cease-and-desist letter; manager calls indoor closure ‘infuriating’

An electron microscope image shows the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

YogaSix in La Jolla is one of many businesses in San Diego County to receive a cease-and-desist letter this week as the county tries to crack down on health-order violators as cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus continue to climb.

Thirty-nine such orders had been issued as of Nov. 18, days after the county fell into the purple tier — the most restrictive of four levels of California’s reopening process — and after state officials applied what they called an “emergency brake” to the reopening, announcing that 28 more California counties would enter the purple tier.

Now, 41 of the state’s 58 counties, including San Diego, are requiring restaurants, gyms, places of worship, museums and movie theaters to operate outdoors only. Retail stores and shopping centers are restricted to 25 percent indoor capacity.

La Jolla restaurants, retailers, gyms and other businesses are adapting their plans and hoping to weather the latest round of restrictions as San Diego County moves into the state’s most restrictive COVID-19 tier.

In addition, the state announced Nov. 19 that any county in the purple tier will be subject to a curfew requiring that all non-essential gatherings and activities involving members of different households cease between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily starting Saturday, Nov. 21, and continuing until Dec. 21.

Ten San Diego County locations of YogaSix received cease-and-desist letters dated Nov. 16. The letter to the La Jolla studio stated the county had “documented that indoor operations and no face coverings by patrons and employees is occurring” at YogaSix La Jolla at 8657 Villa La Jolla Drive, in the La Jolla Village Square shopping center.

“Failure to comply,” the letter continued, “may result in criminal misdemeanor citations with a $1,000 fine for each violation.”

YogaSix La Jolla manager Tori Foote said in a Nov. 19 statement to the La Jolla Light that “it is beyond frustrating and unfair to see our YogaSix studios close for the third time this year. We have implemented every safety protocol within our studios, reduced capacity size, socially distanced the mats six feet apart and required that our students are masked when in the studio.”

The class schedule on the website for YogaSix La Jolla indicates that all classes are held online via livestream, and Foote said the company is offering outdoor classes “at most of our locations and hope we will be allowed to operate indoors again very soon.”

Foote said the indoor closure is “infuriating, [as] the data shows very few COVID-19 cases linked to any gyms, let alone yoga studios. As of today, we have seen zero cases of transmission linked to any YogaSix.”

“Many students and teachers have been coming to the studio to feel a sense of normalcy and to relieve the stress brought on by the pandemic,” Foote added. “Our studios are able to minimize touch points, limit class sizes and follow the protocols, which we feel should allow us to continue to operate indoors as we were.”

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said Nov. 16 that too few people in San Diego County are heeding advice to keep their distance, avoid large gatherings and wear masks when around people from outside their household.

The county reported a record 1,087 newly diagnosed coronavirus infections Nov. 15, followed by 833 more the next day. More than 920 new cases, and a dozen fatalities, were reported Nov. 18, the eighth consecutive day the county reported more than 600 new coronavirus cases.

A regional COVID-19 report showed 150 total hospitalizations for the week ended Nov. 15, higher than the total of 118 tallied the previous week, and significantly higher than new hospitalization totals that were usually in the 80s from mid-September through late October.

“Over the last weeks we have seen the results [of] what can happen when we relax our personal standards and let our guard down,” Wooten said. “We are in an emergency situation; COVID-19 is not going away and we must act.”

Last week, Wooten noted that county contact-tracing investigations indicated that restaurants, places of worship, museums and other locations now required to operate outdoors did not appear to be generating as many exposures as were occurring in households and workplaces. The scenarios of people going to their jobs and congregating in their homes were responsible for more than 60 percent of the places people told contact tracers they visited before getting sick.

Wooten included such observations in an “adjudication” request sent to the state about two weeks ago. But she said this week that the sharp rise in new cases warrants the harsher restrictions San Diego County faces now that it has slipped from the red tier into the most restrictive purple tier.

Differences between Tier 2, or the red tier, and Tier 1, or the purple tier, in the state's coronavirus restrictions.
This chart shows the differences between Tier 2, or the red tier, and Tier 1, or the purple tier, in the state’s framework of coronavirus restrictions.

But a group of local restaurants and gyms have used the county’s own words to challenge its ability to enforce its cease-and-desist orders. A lawsuit filed last week seeking a temporary injunction was scheduled for a hearing Nov. 17, but the hearing has been moved to Friday, Nov. 20.

Cease-and-desist orders do not turn into citations without the help of local law enforcement agencies, said county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

A survey of local law enforcement agencies late last week showed that the focus has remained on asking violators for voluntary compliance rather than writing tickets that can generate $1,000 fines. And citations have grown much less frequent.

Across the county, officers and deputies had issued 431 COVID-19-related citations. The vast majority of those — 393 — were issued in April by the San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Carlsbad Police Department.

San Diego police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said officers have issued very few citations over the past several months — likely less than 10.

“That’s because we really took an approach to achieve voluntary compliance,” Takeuchi said.

When asked whether the department would shift tactics in light of the region’s purple tier status, he said, “The chief is consulting with our city leaders and other law enforcement leaders in the region to determine how to assist the county health department so that we can all work together to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Wooten recently wrote a letter to law enforcement agencies and local leaders asking for more help in enforcing health orders.

The Sheriff’s Department said Nov. 19 that it will allocate eight full-time deputies to help investigate health-order complaints and quickly issue citations.

“We will continue to ask [law enforcement] for help,” Fletcher said. “We will continue to push and we will continue to do everything we can countywide.”

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writers Paul Sisson, Lyndsay Winkley and Alex Riggins and City News Service contributed to this report.