Bars and pubs considered hot spots for coronavirus transmission

Jul 1, 2020

Younger adults are contributing to the rise in COVID-19 cases in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and a spike in confirmed cases statewide has led California's governor to reinstate shut-down orders for all bars, pubs and brewpubs. And while not ordered to do so, San Luis Obispo city officials announced Wednesday that the city's bars must too close as of July 2. 

Initially the governor's orders covered seven counties, including Santa Barbara County; then on Wednesday, the governor extended the closures to 19 counties. 

People in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly testing positive for COVID-19 throughout the nation, a trend that San Luis Obispo County public health official Michelle Shoresman said is being seen locally as well.

“Over the [June 27] weekend, we had 59 new cases, and of those, 37 are in that 18 to 49 age group,” Shoresman said.

The increase in cases is attributed to community spread, including cases among people who reported spending time in bars, reopened for the month of June.

But despite this increase, San Luis Obispo County plans on keeping bars open over the July 4 weekend.

Local health officials say they are closely tracking whether San Luis Obispo County will be required by the state health department to close those establishments again, or if an increase in cases locally will require them to take other action.

“[Bar closures are] a possible tool in the tool box,” Shoresman said. “It’s not something that we are currently doing, but it is something that our health officer is willing to consider.”

But further down the coast, per Governor Gavin Newsom's order, Santa Barbara County bars that don’t serve food will need to shut down starting at 8 a.m. on July 1.

Dr. Henning Ansorg with Santa Barbara Public Health said while the science can’t officially back that bars are causing a spike in cases, he says there’s enough evidence showing they are a major contributor.

“There have been numerous outbreaks reported not just in California, but in other states that were clearly linked to bars,” Ansorg said.

It’s the nature of bars that makes it hard to maintain a safe social distance, Ansorg said.

“A bar is most attractive when there is a good crowd,” Ansorg said. “Music is usually loud, so in order to speak, you have to speak up or sometimes get close to your neighbors ear, so this all contributes to the spread of the virus.”

With the Fourth of July holiday weekend coming up, Dr. Ansorg urges people not to be tempted to throw house parties or have large gatherings.

He also warns that while the elderly are still more at risk for major complications if infected with the virus, he said younger people shouldn't have a false sense of security that the virus won't affect them.

“People younger can get seriously ill with horrible pneumonia, ending up in the intensive care unit,” Ansorg said. “The course of the disease is very fast, and it's very unpredictable, who gets very sick from this and who doesn’t.”