RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) – Health officials in Riverside County Monday ordered all bars to close following what officials are calling an upswing in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The order, which goes into effect Tuesday, follows an executive order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom to shut down bars in Los Angeles County and six other counties.

Bars had been allowed to operate in Riverside County since June 12 as the region and state reopened the economy under an accelerated stage two plan.

But local and state health officials became concerned as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases started to grow, along with an increase in hospitalizations and ICU beds in use.

“People don’t social distance well after a couple drinks, and it’s one of the hardest environments to trace contacts in,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer. “My hope is that this will be only temporary and further closures won’t be needed, but it all depends on what every one of us as a county do to slow more spread.”

Establishments such as restaurants, pubs and breweries that offer dine-in services may still offer alcoholic drinks, but only in the same transaction as a meal, county officials said.

If a bar offers meals, they are required to comply with the same industry guidance as restaurants.

As for enforcement, officials with the Department of Environmental Health are expected to reach out to all impacted bars, pubs, breweries and restaurants to explain the order and impacts to their operations.

While officials said they believe most bars will comply with the order, those who do not may face “additional action”, though no specifics were offered.

The move comes as L.A. bar owners are still struggling to adapt to the changing rules.

Kennedy Higdon describes how his family felt on Sunday when they got the word that his mother-in-law’s business, The Buccaneer Lounge in Sierra Madre, would have to shut down once again because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The dive bar had just re-opened on Friday. He says after following all the rules and making modifications like adding a patio to allow for social distancing, the state’s shut down orders are unfair.

“It’s very emotional for us,” he said. “This was a gut punch. This is probably the lowest time so far in this whole ordeal.”

Higdon says all of his employees and customers have complied with the rules and he understands the need to slow the spread. But he says businesses like The Buccaneer shouldn’t be punished for it.

He hopes to fill the seats again soon.

“If the order really assumes that the Buccaneer Lounge in Sierra Madre is in the same category as a large nightclub in West Hollywood, makes zero sense,” said Higdon. “The local communities know what’s best for their communities.”


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