New state coronavirus rules clamp down on Sonoma County as second shutdown begins
Sonoma County business owners and political leaders grappled Monday with a sudden state pandemic order that shuttered a wider swath of businesses, at least indoors, as Gov. Gavin Newsom sought to reverse reopening, with his strongest measures reserved for more than 30 counties where coronavirus cases have risen most sharply, including Sonoma.
The top-down move, a surprise to local representatives, places Sonoma County and up to 32 million fellow Californians in what amounts to a second shutdown expected to last at least several weeks. The reversal comes less than two months after much of the state began to reopen.
Statewide, Newsom closed bars that don’t serve food outside, while also halting indoor service at restaurants, tasting rooms, and breweries, and shutting down movie theaters, entertainment centers and museums. Those rules had already taken effect early Monday in Sonoma County and 31 other counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list.
The second, stronger rollback targets those most closely watched and populous counties, forcing indoor operations at gyms, houses of worship, non-critical offices, hair salons and indoor malls to shut down.
Newsom’s order amounted to an unexpected broadside for county representatives and business officials, with no warning from the state, they said.
“I think that we are all in a state of whiplash, and having just had a new announcement at 12:01 a.m., and 12 hours later, we’re in a new world,” said county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “I think it’s really challenging for small businesses to keep up with a news cycle that, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour is changing their ability to earn a living.”
The move to rein in portions of the economy comes six weeks after Sonoma County began reopening under a series of phased moves overseen by local health authorities and allowed by Newsom, who said at the time that he wanted to give counties more discretion over their pandemic restrictions.
Monday’s announcement from Sacramento represented a clear departure from that approach. For many local businesses, it will mean a hard closure or another major overhaul of operations. County health officials say it will take weeks to determine whether the closures have worked.
“It’s absolutely hard to adapt to,” said Adam Gutsch, co-owner of Flagship Taproom in downtown Santa Rosa’s Brickyard Center. “One week we’re waking up and it’s business as normal, and then the next week, I’m looking at the news every morning wondering if I’m going to have to shut my restaurant down.”
The governor’s order is tied to an alarming increase in key coronavirus benchmarks statewide, including 8,358 new coronavirus cases Sunday. Total cases have increased 47% over the past two weeks, while hospitalizations have jumped 28% during the same time period.
“The data suggests not everybody is practicing common sense,” Newsom said in a noon briefing announcing his orders, which took effect immediately.
The county’s sharp increase in cases since Memorial Day propelled it onto the state’s watch list, a group of counties comprising about 80% of the state’s population. In the past month, the county has reported a six-fold increase in its infection rate, and half of the 16 local deaths attributed to the disease have occurred in the past two weeks.
Acknowledging those grim metrics, Supervisor Susan Gorin said she understands Newsom’s decision.
“I asked hospital executives what they’re anticipating,” said Gorin, chair of the Board of Supervisors, referring to a Monday morning Zoom call with the county’s top hospital leaders. “They’re increasingly nervous, and I am as well.”
“I’m hopeful that with this action, if we take it seriously enough with our facial coverings, sheltering in place if we can, stopping indoor activities, we can move that curve down and open again,” Gorin said.
Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County’s health officer, said the package of restrictions could be in place for two weeks to a month before COVID-19 case data show whether the clampdown is effective.
“We’re in a watch-and-wait mode right now to try to see what’s going to happen to our case numbers, and then we’ll have a much better idea of how long these restrictions need to be in place,” Mase said Monday afternoon.
For now, local businesses must again modify their operations to stay open, shifting to outside service or pick-up only. The order impacts dining and drinking establishments that have only begun to see their sit-down clientele return. For those that specialize in alcohol sales, all business must cease cease, except for outdoor service with food, according to the order.