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Sonoma County businesses brace for new round of pandemic closures as state action looms

Last month, James Pattison was finally able to reopen the doors at Windsor Bowling Center after a three-month closure caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Customers returned, albeit not to pre-pandemic levels, rolling splits and strikes in 12 out of 24 lanes to allow groups to maintain a distance at the longtime bowling alley on Conde Lane. Bowling balls, shoes, lanes and the upstairs arcade games were scrupulously sanitized.

But less than a month later, Pattison’s bowling alley is among the types of businesses facing the likelihood of another extended shutdown as the highly infectious virus spreads more rapidly, raising the prospect of state action to close indoor places where people gather.

“It for sure sounds like we’re headed to another shutdown,” Pattison said. “We’re going day-to-day here.”

Limiting places where people gather and risk spreading the highly infectious pathogen to others is one of the sharpest tools the state can deploy to stem the virus’ spread.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered 22 counties with high transmission rates and hospitalizations to close indoor facilities like indoor seating at restaurants, movie theaters, family entertainment centers and museums. Two more counties have since joined that list.

Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said she expects the county will receive similar orders from the state this week ‒ precisely when, she couldn’t say ‒ because of how markedly the numbers of infected and ill people have been growing.

Barring indoor dining and preventing museums from reopening will not impact the kinds of places where local outbreaks have been the most pronounced. Public health workers have traced the greatest transmission clusters in the county to Latino workers and families, farm laborers and elderly residents at care homes.

Still, Mase said she believes reintroducing restrictions could be “hugely helpful” by preventing people from congregating indoors in places like restaurants and bars where they may eat and drink while not wearing masks.

Mase said more people are contracting COVID-19 through community spread, a public health term when they cannot determine how a person got sick, although the health department had lagged in its analysis of where people diagnosed with COVID-19 were catching it.

Closing high-risk places where people gather "makes sense,“ Mase said.

“Will we know whether we’re targeting exactly what led to this (increase in infections)? Closing down the more higher-risk areas hopefully will lead to a decrease in cases over time,” Mase said. “Having said that, maybe we could look at some of the outbreak situations we have and also take the targeted approach of closing down specific businesses that are having outbreaks.”

As of late Friday, the most recent data available by Monday evening, 50% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 had contracted the virus from someone already known to have the disease, such as a family member, roommate or coworker.

Of known cases, 12% contracted the virus through community spread and another 34% of cases remain under investigation.

The county Friday first exceeded the state’s transmission rate benchmark of 100 cases per 100,000. If it remains above that mark for three days, the state is expected to order the county to close indoor businesses.

Testing data was not available over the weekend or Monday, and so the county’s status remains unclear.

Toraj Soltani, owner of Mac’s Deli in downtown Santa Rosa, is assuming he will have to end indoor dining service in the next day or two at his family’s popular Fourth Street eatery. Soltani said he hopes Santa Rosa moves forward with its plans this week to shut down the downtown thoroughfare and allow restaurants like his to set up tables in the street.

Receipts from outdoor and takeout dining, and family ownership of Mac’s Deli building, may make it possible for the restaurant to pull through this unprecedented time for local businesses, Soltani said, but he worries for the fate of other downtown businesses.

“A lot of people aren’t going to survive this second round,” Soltani said.

Santa Rosa Metro Chamber chief executive officer Peter Rumble blamed poor adherence to public health rules for facial coverings and social distance for the troubling outlook for local business facing another shutdown.

“People need to wear their masks. People need to try to keep physical distance as much as possible and do what they can to maintain good hygiene. Anecdotally, I just don’t see that happening,” Rumble said. “If we as a community want our restaurants to be open and our merchants to be open, we really need to focus on what responsibility we have as individuals.”

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

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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