Sonoma County added to state coronavirus monitoring list, new restrictions impact indoor dining

New restrictions could be ordered as early as Monday, July 13 in Sonoma County, after the California Department of Public Health announced it was putting the county on its monitoring list.

Inside restaurants like the El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma, all the servers, cooks, food runners and staff members wear masks. Condiment bottles have been replaced by hand sanitizers, and customers' tables are spaced far apart.

"We have a very large restaurant here and we've cut the capacity down in half to make sure everybody's social distancing," explained El Dorado Kitchen's assistant general manager, Caroline Storrs. "Every table's six feet apart. We keep everything clean constantly."

But the active scene in the restaurant on Sunday morning could look very different later this week. Sonoma County health officials announced landing on the state's monitoring list for increased COVID-19 cases could trigger a tightening of restrictions on indoor activities.

Dining indoors would no longer be allowed, although eating outdoors at restaurants could continue. Tastings in wineries would have to take place outdoors. Movie theaters, zoos, museums, and family entertainment centers like arcades would also have to stop operating indoors.

Storrs said her restaurant is planning ahead, to try and expand some of their outdoor patio seating to include some space in the nearby parking lot.

"It's very disheartening, to say the least. We just feel like we're finally kind of getting somewhat of normalcy going. Making the staff feel a little better, getting our clients to feel comfortable. And low and behold, they're going to shut indoor dining down," she said.

As of Sunday morning, July 12, Sonoma County's website listed 914 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, with 51 new cases reported in the previous 24 hours.

According to a presentation from the county health department to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Thursday night, the county's positivity rate - the percentage of people tested who test positive for COVID-19 - is 3%. That's relatively low, but hospitalizations are up by 54% and the county only has 3% of its ICU beds still available.

Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County Public Health Officer explained to the Board that that is why the county has been placed on the state's monitoring list.

"A lot of our cases are associated with gatherings," Mase said. "Funerals, parties, many Father's Day events, things where people have come together in groups of over 10 or 12 people, despite the health orders."

Other Bay Area counties also on the monitoring list are Napa, Marin, Solano and Contra Costa Counties.

In the meantime, anxiety levels in the county’s usually-vibrant tourism and restaurant industry, are high.

“It’s exhausting, very frustrating,” Storrs said of the constant uncertainty about closures and restrictions.  “Our goal is to keep the business running. Our goal is to keep this business running. We've done a good job with our take-out and all that. But we had 60-70 employees we had to lay-off. It's just very sad. It's made this business a lot harder than it used to be.”