SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - Marin County’s COVID-19 numbers did not improve after being placed on California’s watch list, causing the county to halt indoor restaurant dining for a minimum of three weeks just one week after they were given the green light to resume.
County officials said Monday they recorded three days of no improvement since being added to the list on Friday. Effective Monday, restaurants may only offer outdoor seating and take-out service, so long as public health precautions are followed.
The list was created by the California Department of Public Health to monitor any significant COVID-19 changes. Counties that have been on the list for three days or more were instructed by Gov. Newsom and the CDPH to close some indoor operations, including indoor dining.
The state’s watch list tracks spikes in confirmed cases, hospitalizations and outbreaks in congregate settings. It also looks for an increase in community transmission at workplaces or churches.
Many of Marin County's restaurant owners may be feeling whiplash.
"It's like a bad relationship. Honestly, you don't know what's coming next," said Dara Stone, general manager of Finnegan's Restaurant in Novato. "We brought back another five staff members. And we hired two new food runners and hosts. And unfortunately, at least for the next three weeks, we are not going to really need them."
UC Berkeley infectious disease professor Dr. John Swartzberg says indoor dining is not a good idea right now.
"There is not a lot of ambient air and not a lot of air movement. So people get exposed to air that other people are breathing even if you are socially distant," he said.
Finnegans said it was hoping customers would get used to the idea of indoor dining. But that the week it was allowed only one customer chose to eat inside.
"We had a couple of people who asked about it. But because we have street closures on weekends, people were more than happy and really wanted to be outdoors. Being confined indoors is a scary spot for people to be in right now," said Stone.
A few doors down at Grazie, the owner decided against re-opening indoor dining last week even though he could have.
"I see the curve. It's not bending. It's going up. So I had the feeling it's not safe yet," said owner Abe Hamami.
"In retrospect, I think everyone would admit we opened things up more quickly than we should have. And looking back, hopefully we are not going to make that mistake again," said Swartzberg.
As of Monday morning, Marin County has recorded 1,464 cases of COVID-19, according to the county’s website. The total does not include the growing number of cases at San Quentin State Prison, which is in the county and has seen nearly 1,400 cases with three inmate deaths.
KTVU's Rob Roth contributed to this report.