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Mary’s Pizza Shack in Rohnert Park fined $1,000 for violating virus restrictions

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A Rohnert Park restaurateur was fined $1,000 on Wednesday for violating state pandemic-related restrictions by not having more of the tent-like enclosure around his outdoor tables open for air flow.

Mary’s Pizza Shack owner Cully Williamson said he plans to appeal the citation, saying he had invested heavily in public health safety at his eatery since the coronavirus emerged in the county and had repeatedly sought help from the city to find a way to operate in colder weather.

But after a Rohnert Park compliance officer warned him that having three sides of the tent closed around tables was not allowed, the officer returned the next day and found the same thing, though the tops of two sides were folded down about 18 inches for air flow, Williamson said.

Under state public health rules, only one side of such an enclosure can be down or closed.

“What’s so frustrating to me is I’ve been talking to the city for the last three months, saying, ’Hey, the weather’s going to be changing here. We need to figure this out.’ And they just keep saying, ’It is what it is,’ and, ’You can’t put heaters inside the tent,’ ” he said.

“I’m doing everything and following the letter of the law, but this one thing I’m having a tough time on is, ’How can you not let me use the tent in a way that is both safe but not — what’s the word — impossible for the customer to want to sit there?’ ”

Williamson described his plight amid fading hopes that tight restrictions on Sonoma County business activities would be eased or lifted any time soon. Among them are a ban on indoor food and drink service at restaurants, breweries or wineries.

The state has yet to formally respond to an appeal last week from Sonoma County public health officials for reconsideration — or a tier adjudication request — of certain bench marks connected with virus transmission that they hoped might allow the county to advance from the most restrictive, purple tier in the state’s four-part reopening plan for California’s 58 counties.

“Though the county’s case for adjudication was strong … the timing was not good,” Sonoma County Health Officer Sundari Mase said Wednesday. “With new daily cases and test positivity rates escalating rapidly throughout the state, California has determined this week that all adjudication requests were unlikely to be approved.”

The county’s own virus infection rate also has risen enough that it probably no longer matters, if statistical adjustments might have positioned it for looser restrictions on businesses and public venues.

A weekend spike in daily COVID-19 infections, during which the county reported 223 new cases over two days, helped bring the average daily case rate over seven days to 15.1 for every 100,000 residents. That’s up from an average daily case rate of 11.5 a week earlier, and more than double the rate of 7 or below allowed for counties to move ahead from the purple to red reopening tier.

Mase said she didn’t think the county meets state requirements to advance to the red reopening stage, and noted that those metrics need to hold steady for two weeks before the county would be able to enable broader business operations allowed in that less restrictive tier.

The result is social and commercial activities in Sonoma County will remain tightly restricted in the bottom reopening level, as it’s been since late August. And Monday 40 other California counties slid backward and joined Sonoma in the purple tier, when Gov. Gavin Newsom “pulled the emergency brake” on reopenings in an effort to curb the highest virus infection rate the state has experienced since the pandemic started eight months ago.

More than 94% of Californians now are living in counties where restaurants, wineries, gyms, movie theaters and many other venues remain closed inside, though some outdoor activities are permitted.

And if COVID-19 continues its rampant spread, restrictions could get even tighter. Los Angeles County has set a threshold for new cases beyond which it will impose a three-week stay-at-home order plus a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for all but essential workers — a move Mase said California Department of Health officials may consider statewide.

“There have been some talks about that,” she said. “We’re waiting to see what the governor and the state health officer determine about that.”

As of Wednesday, Sonoma County has had at least 11,133 confirmed coronavirus cases during the pandemic.

Health officials said the recent bump in local cases was related in part to Halloween gatherings, noting at least 25 cases so far have been associated with the holiday.

At least 150 county residents have died of complications related to the coronavirus, including a man reported Tuesday who died Nov. 10 at an unidentified local hospital. He was over 64 and had been living at home when he was infected.

With the Thanksgiving and the winter holidays coming, Mase again discouraged travel and social gatherings, even with more people getting tested, which, she said, only reveals infection at a given moment in time.

“At this time, I think we’re just in that sort of watch-and-wait phase to see what direction the cases are going to go, whether we are a couple weeks behind the rest of the Bay Area and will be seeing an even greater increase,” Mase said. “Right now, we are at the state average of 15 new cases per day per 100,000, so we just have to wait and see what direction that goes.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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