Kern and more than a dozen other counties in California must stop indoor dining at restaurants, and completely shut down bars, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums for at least the next three weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday during his daily briefing.
In an effort to stem a new surge in cases from the upcoming holiday weekend, Newsom also urged people to avoid gathering with others outside their household and to avoid crowds.
“California is seeing the virus spreading at alarming rates in many parts of the state, and we are taking immediate action to slow the spread of the virus in those areas,” Newsom said. “We bent the curve in the state of California once, and we will bend the curve again. But we’re going to have to be tougher, and that’s why we are taking this action today.”
Just two hours before the announcement, the Bakersfield Museum of Art had reopened its doors since closing due to the stay-at-home order. Executive director Amy Smith said news that the local institution had to shut down felt like a roller coaster.
"We are open today and not open tomorrow," Smith said.
But, she said: "This is what is necessary and if this is what the state requires. We have all our systems in place and we’re ready to go whenever we’re allowed to reopen."
"I want to cry," said Katie Corrigan, chief operating officer at The BLVD, which had recently reopened its bowling lanes, arcades, as well as dining indoors. She was waiting for her head chef to arrive to work Wednesday afternoon to see if it would be financially worthwhile to keep patio dining open.
Corrigan expressed sympathy for the employees the venue employs.
"This is their livelihood and especially for servers and bartenders. They make the money off the tips. It’s just extremely hard," she said.
Tina Brown, owner of Tina Marie's Cafe on Chester Avenue, said she's glad she got a permit from the city to extend seating into parking lots and sidewalks. Patio dining and takeout are allowed under the governor's order.
"What a blessing in disguise," she said of her decision to get the permit for the eatery, which is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch.
However, the weather is yet another obstacle. Dining outdoors in other parts of the state may be no problem, but in Bakersfield it could be a deterrent.
Brown said she sent her husband out Wednesday afternoon to find some coolers to provide cool air flow through the impromptu dining area, which also features large umbrellas. She was optimistic, however, that she could get through the next few weeks with her makeshift setup and then will be allowed to reopen indoor dining.
When exactly reopening can happen is in question, though.
Kern County Department of Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said the state had informed counties the closures are in place for at least three weeks but could be extended based on "epidemiological" conditions. Constantine said he believes that reopening may only happen within a county if that county meets state metrics for at least three days in a row. Kern has only met the metrics once in the several weeks since the state launched the monitoring program.
"It's confusing," Constantine said of the state monitoring program, adding that he sympathizes with businesses that are struggling financially and now have to shut down again.
Corina Topete, owner of Jerry's Pizza in downtown Bakersfield, said she expects to lay off half her staff Thursday morning after laying off her bartenders Wednesday morning. Topete said the restaurant had seen a surge in business since reopening, and employees who usually worked part-time were getting full-time hours. Now they will likely go back on unemployment, though some will stay on to help with takeout orders.
"They're all very disappointed and sad," she said. "I know we all have to do what we have to do ... but we feel like we've been taking all the precautionary measures. It's just tough on everyone."
Topete said she especially feels bad for bar owners, who have to shut down completely.
"They probably just restocked and it costs a lot to restock your bar," she said.
As for movie theaters, many remained closed as of Wednesday but had plans to reopen in the next two weeks.
Maya Cinemas planned to reopen its theaters July 10 and Reading Cinemas Valley Plaza with IMAX, AMC Bakersfield 6 and Regal Bakersfield Stadium 14 to follow suit by mid-July.
Newsom said that despite the best intentions of wearing masks and social distancing, when people gather together there's a strong tendency to remove the mask after a while, opening the potential for virus spread. He said the closures specifically targeted locations and activities where people were in close contact and the virus was most likely to spread. He also suggested canceling any family gatherings that might be planned for the holiday weekend.
"If you've already made plans for the Fourth of July, perhaps you've already done that, I hope you'll reconsider those gatherings with people that aren't in your household," he said.