Sonoma County seeks state approval to reopen restaurants, breweries, tasting rooms for outdoor use
Sonoma County’s top health official on Monday submitted a reopening plan to the state that would allow customers to return to Sonoma County restaurant, brewery and winery patios nearly two months after they were closed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Also on the Sonoma County’s list of activities awaiting state approval: summer camps for kids, drive-through ceremonies for high school seniors and drive-up religious services for places of worship.
Dining indoors at restaurants will have to wait. So will trips to the mall.
“We’re seeking the things we think are appropriate for Sonoma County at this time — lower risk activities,” Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said Monday afternoon.
The plan, which Sonoma County supervisors endorsed during a special meeting Monday, coincided with new state reopening benchmarks announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom at a noon briefing from Mustards Grill on Highway 29 in Napa.
The framework gives more of the state a shot to relax restrictions while lending counties more leeway after weeks of pushback from regional leaders seeking to carve their own way out of COVID-19 shutdowns.
“Bottom line is: People can go at their own pace, and we are empowering our local health directors and county officials that understand their local communities and conditions,” Newsom said.
Local wine and beer industry leaders struck a celebratory tone Monday, citing two months of lackluster business that has spurred layoffs throughout the county’s hospitality sector. The move to reopen patios to dining and drinking is seen as a life preserver for local businesses as the summer months approach.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Mike Haney, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, the county’s leading trade group for wineries. Most of the roughly 300 tasting rooms are ready to reopen immediately after industry leaders worked to draft guidance for how to safely do so, he said.
“It’s something we’ve been working on for quite a while now,” he said.
Hopmonk, which has four beer taverns in the North Bay that offer outdoor dining and music, is also positioned to take advantage of the loosened restrictions, said owner Dean Biersch.
“We intend to survive the downturn,” said Biersch, adding that the outdoor experience is critical to his business model. “I could go on and on about how hard it’s been. The first step needs to start happening as soon as possible.”
County supervisors voiced their support for Mase’s plan and sought to move beyond recent news reports that exposed the tension and shifting stances of local political and business leaders who have chafed at times under the evolving health orders.
“Often the news media pits us against the public health function of the public health officer,” said Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “That is not the case. Let me make it very clear: We’re working hand-in-hand with the public health officer.”
Gorin was one of several supervisors in recent weeks who publicly questioned Mase’s approach, including her March 31 extension of the shelter-in-place order, which came down sooner and stricter than supervisors expected.
Even Monday, Gorin was urging a slow pace to reopening, saying more discussion is needed. The county has received hundreds of emails urging against a wider, faster reopening, she noted.
“I intend to take a very conservative approach to opening up,” she said later in an interview, adding that the ultimate decision belongs to Mase.