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Walnut Creek Magazine

Shutdown 2.0

Dec 08, 2020 03:38PM ● By Harper Klein

Another big week in the pandemic. Nine months into the COVID-19 crisis and California, including the Bay Area, is seeing the worst surge in cases yet—20,000 cases per day in the state, 2,000 per day in the region—even before the big bump expected from Thanksgiving holiday gatherings.

As a result, at a press conference last week Governor Gavin Newsom rolled out a new plan, essentially dividing the state into five regions: far Northern California, the greater Sacramento area, the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California, and the Bay Area (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Sonoma counties). When the intensive-care unit capacity in a region’s hospital network drops below 15 percent, a surge shutdown will kick in until “a region’s projected ICU capacity meets or exceeds 15 percent,” or for a minimum of three weeks.

Despite ICU capacity in the Bay Area region at 25.7%, at a press conference last Friday, health officials from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and the city of Berkeley announced plans to slow the surge before it overwhelms local hospitals, and ICU bed availability, by implementing the State’s Regional Stay at Home Order December 7, 2020 until January 4, 2021.

Restaurants, bars, hair and nail salons, plus a host of other businesses, services, and activities deemed “non-essential” were told to shut down, moving the region back to March-level restrictions. Speaking at the press conference, Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano says, “We don’t think we can wait to allow the state’s restrictions to go into effect. That’s why we’re making temporary changes to go into effect now. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Contra Costa County has doubled in just the past couple of weeks, and we are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity later this month if current trends continue.”

As part of the state’s order, “all gatherings with members of other households are prohibited,” including outdoor gatherings, and residents must “stay home or at their place of residence except as necessary to conduct activities associated with the operation, maintenance, or usage of critical infrastructure.”

In-store capacity for grocery stores and other retail operations was cut to 20 percent and “the sale of food, beverages, and alcohol for in-store consumption prohibited.” The same is true for on-site consumption of food or drinks at restaurants, which may continue to serve takeout and delivery only. Bars, wineries, and breweries must completely close, and hotels can only accommodate essential travel. (A list of Bay Area openings and closings can be found here.)

The message from health officials is clear, the situation is dire. When you have this much virus in the community, any interaction is dangerous. Stay home to stop the virus from spreading and protect local hospitals and their medical staff from reaching capacity.

When the news hit, it left a fatigued business community, and particularly restaurants, reeling. While not ideal, outdoor dining had at least provided the industry with a consistent revenue stream. Under the new shutdown orders, many restaurant owners wonder how long they can make it on takeout and delivery sales. “It is devastating for us and our employees,” says Ben Shahvar, who together with his family operates five Buttercup Diner locations in the East Bay. “We plan on doing carry out and not letting anyone go during the holiday season. We’ll make it as long as we can, taking loans, but this is not a sustainable business model long term as you have seen many restaurants close and will see many more do so.”

With outdoor dining suspended, cities like Walnut Creek are also requiring restaurants operating in public spaces to remove all the furniture, tents, umbrellas, heaters, lights, and decorations invested in to create comfortable customer experiences. 

“Every time we shut down it’s like we're operating as a new business again," says another Walnut Creek restaurateur. “Your sales basically tank to nothing if we’re lucky today we’ll do 15% of pre-COVID-19 sales. We had to let 50% of our workforce go and more layoffs may have to come. There comes a point where this shutdown will put us out of business, we are not there yet, but we fear it is coming. Even if we can reopen outdoor dining on January 4, which is not likely, the City of Walnut Creek is not ready with a plan on how to handle wet weather. This is a big problem, so we plan to continue only carry-out until the rainy season ends. At this point, I don’t know what the future holds for us.”


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