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Pacific Beach Bar Closed For Violating Health Order Hours After Reopening

A San Diego police officer talks to an employee at El Prez sports bar and res...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: A San Diego police officer talks to an employee at El Prez sports bar and restaurant on May 22, 2020. The restaurant was closed for violating the county's public health orders.

Hours after San Diego County reopened dine-in restaurants and retail shopping Thursday, health officials saw "egregious" disregard for public health orders, resulting in one business being forcibly closed and notices from law enforcement that they would ramp up enforcement over Memorial Day weekend.

A short video clip played at Friday's news briefing taken at El Prez, a popular Pacific Beach sports bar and restaurant, and showed dozens of people in close physical contact without face coverings standing at the bar. The restaurant was closed by the county and will "remain closed until further notice," said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

He said the vast majority of restaurateurs are following health orders and not endangering the public, but a few "bad-faith actors" could seriously impact the county's efforts to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Undersheriff Mike Barnett said Friday that law enforcement was "very concerned" with what they saw.

"We run the real risk of having a setback," he said. "The San Diego Sheriff's Office provides services for nearly a million people, and we have only given out 137 citations so far and none in the last seven days. That's one- one-hundredth of 1%. We are not looking to increase this."

RELATED: San Diego Restaurants Back In The Dine-In Business, With Coronavirus Modifications

Even so, Barnett said law enforcement will take time away from catching "real criminals" to first educate, seek compliance and ultimately enforce public health orders if needed.

Many restaurants near the beach have been preparing for weeks to reopen using physical distancing new sanitation measures.

“We don't want everyone to get a bad rap because one or two spots aren’t doing it the best they could,” said Natasha Ross-Prickett, who is part owner of Miss B’s Coconut Club. “We put a lot of time in effort in making it safe here.”

Miss B’s has installed plexiglass partitions at every table, and gone are the paper menus. It’s all done through your phone.

Other restaurant owners say Memorial Day weekend is typically their second busiest of the year.

“It is a little crazy that they allowed us to open up for a soft trial right before a huge crazy weekend,” said Eric Christiansen, co-owner of Guava Beach Bar & Grill in Mission Beach. ”We’re going to see how it goes, we’re going to self police it so people just can’t randomly come in. We’re going to do the best we can to keep everyone safe, our employees and our patrons.”

Christiansen is also planning for long lines this weekend.

“We can’t get too busy because we’re not going to allow ourselves to get too busy. Normally it would be just chaos,” Christiansen said. He too has installed plexiglass partitions, spaced tables out and removed all the restaurant's bar seating.

RELATED: Loosened Restrictions, Holiday Weekend To Test California

San Diego County reported 119 new COVID-19 cases and one death Friday, raising the region's totals to 6,434 cases and 242 deaths. The fatality reported Friday was a 35-year-old who had underlying health issues, said San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.

She said the county's numbers continued to trend downward, but it would not take many incidents like that at El Prez to create more outbreaks, prolonging the pandemic and related health orders. San Diego County has more than 16,000 restaurants and food-preparation facilities, County Supervisor Greg Cox said Thursday.

Wooten encouraged people who witnessed businesses violating health orders to contact the non-emergency line of their local jurisdiction.

California approved the county's request Wednesday night to allow dining at restaurants and in-store shopping, both with social-distancing restrictions.

Elected officials and business leaders alike showed optimism Thursday afternoon but also cautioned San Diegans to be patient as the new normal fits into place.

Restaurants and shops must fill out the county's Safe Reopening Plan form and post it publicly to reopen, Fletcher said in a tweet Wednesday night.

Some restaurants and shops completed this form ahead of time and are able to open Friday.

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

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