Cases of COVID-19 continue to decline and, without any curfews or special holiday restrictions planned at the county or city level, local bars and restaurants are gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day. But the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department is urging community members to keep celebrations brief, outside, small, and among only those without symptoms.
FILE PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
GREEN IN THE RED TIER Local bars and restaurants are gearing up for a pandemic St. Patrick's Day.
“But as all of us get ready for the next holiday that is coming up, St. Patrick's Day, I hope that we will all remember the types of surges that we've seen with each holiday beginning with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas time, New Year's Eve,” SLO County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said at a press briefing on March 10. “Every one of those holidays has led to a surge.”
Although Borenstein said the county’s active infection rate continued its downward trend and the number of residents who are vaccinated continues to rise, she said SLO County hasn’t reached herd immunity.
“So please take precautions at this holiday,” she said. “We do not want to see us backslide because of one night worth of gathering in great numbers or partying.”
Last year SLO County issued an executive order temporarily prohibiting alcohol sales at bars, restaurants, and other alcohol-serving establishments from 5 p.m. the day before St. Patrick’s Day until noon the day after. At that time, SLO County had just confirmed its third case of COVID-19.
As of March 12, there were a little more than 300 active cases and 251 deaths recorded in SLO County, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard
. But city and county officials alike confirmed that there are no plans to issue restrictions this St. Patrick’s Day that go beyond those outlined in the state’s tiered system.
James Blattler, a spokesperson for the city of SLO, said the city plans to increase staffing levels on St. Patrick’s Day to ensure community members and businesses are following the rules of the red tier. Blattler said the city’s “safety enhancement zone,” which doubles fines for noise violations, unruly gatherings, public urination, and open containers, has been in effect since April 2020 and will continue to be on St. Patrick’s Day.
“As always,” he wrote in an email, “the city encourages all community members to continue adhering to public health guidelines.”
County Administrative Officer Wade Horton said the county plans to stick to the state’s requirements regarding bars and is not considering issuing a curfew.
On a normal St. Patrick’s Day, Black Sheep Bar and Grill would open its doors at 6 a.m. and stay open until 2 a.m. the following morning. That’s not happening this year, according to owner Myriam Olaizola.
“I feel that it’s just not the time to promote partying with what’s going on,” Olaizola told New Times
. “So I want to be very safe and very lowkey.”
Black Sheep will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. this St. Patrick’s Day, its usual weekday hours. Olaizola said she plans to bring on a few extra employees to enforce physical distancing, mask, and capacity regulations. Black Sheep isn’t usually the go-to spot for the college party crowd, but she said it hasn’t always been easy for her employees to keep customers in line throughout the pandemic.
At first it was the mask mandate that caused problems. Now, it’s the rule that anyone purchasing alcohol also has to get food. A lot of customers try to fight their way out of buying food and point to other bars in town that either aren’t selling food at all or sell bags of chips with every drink to skirt the regulations and stay open. Olaizola said she doesn’t completely understand the meal rule—why it's supposedly safer to go out and eat than it is to go out and drink—but it’s the state’s mandate.
“These are my rules, and I’m not going to risk losing my license because of somebody who wants to buy a $5 drink,” she said.
Olaizola said she’s just hoping everyone will stay safe and smart this St. Patrick’s Day. SLO County just pushed its way into the red tier, and no one wants to go back into purple.
“If we all work together toward the same healthy goal,” she said, “we would all benefit from it.” ∆