Bars and restaurants have been given the green light for further reopening in California, but it won't look quite like this in the Bay Area for a while. Elevate/Pexels
Bars and restaurants have been given the green light for further reopening in California, but it won't look quite like this in the Bay Area for a while. (Elevate/Pexels)

California Reopens Gyms, Bars and Movie Theaters – But Not So Fast Bay Area

California Reopens Gyms, Bars and Movie Theaters – But Not So Fast Bay Area

Updated July 7 at 2:10 p.m.

Gov. Gavin Newsom always said that his approach to reopening California during the COVID-19 pandemic would be more of a "dimmer switch" than an on/off button — and now we're seeing how that switch can move down as well as up.

Just days before the July holiday, Newsom announced the three-week closure of many commercial indoor activities in many counties, to address the increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

The state's coronavirus watch list has now grown from 19 counties to 26 counties,  and includes Napa, Solano, Contra Costa, and Marin counties in the Bay Area. (Santa Clara was originally on the list, but has been removed.)

On June 12, while much of the Bay Area chose to hold back, many counties across California were able to reopen public businesses including movie theaters, gyms and bars, after getting a green light from the state's Department of Public Health. Many of these were the same businesses that are now being ordered to close back up.

Last month's loosening of coronavirus-related restrictions represented California’s shift into Stage 3 of its reopening plans. The majority of California’s counties – including Napa, Solano and Sonoma – have been approved by the state to move into this next phase, pending clearance from local public health officials.

The Bay Area's six other counties – San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara – opted for a slower, more cautious reopening timeline. San Mateo, however, has joined that list of counties operating on the state's schedule instead, and Santa Clara's application was orignally denied but has now been approved.

San Francisco recently moved to do the same with a newly-accelerated timeline that if approved by the state, would have seen businesses like outdoor bars reopening on June 29, several weeks before originally projected. However, on June 26 those plans were "temporarily" placed on hold by Mayor London Breed, who attributed her decision to the number of COVID-19 cases in the city "rapidly rising." A revised date of July 13 was set for these SF reopenings but on July 7, that projection was also put on pause, with Breed saying "our public health experts feel it is not safe to move forward."

Scroll down to see what's still cleared for reopening in California from that June order, what's been closed again, and whether these new rules will apply to your county ... or not.



California has given the green light to gyms reopening in the state. But don't expect to see the Bay Area's fitness facilities opening up en masse any time soon. (Victor Freitas/Pexels)

California's gyms were permitted to open their doors again starting June 12 in approved counties, and they weren't ordered to close in Newsom's July 1 closure orders.

State guidance (understandably) emphasizes the cleaning and disinfecting of exercise equipment and locker rooms and the provision of sanitation products like hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes for gym-goers. It also recommends facilities provide special gym hours for seniors and the medically vulnerable, and limit exercise class sizes. Swimming pools can reopen, but saunas and steam rooms must stay closed.

What about the Bay Area?

A mass reopening of gyms in the Bay Area looked unlikely back in June, but now Solano, San MateoSonoma, Napa counties have greenlit their gyms for reopening, in accordance with the state.

Elsewhere, we're seeing a pause on gym reopenings. Marin planned to reopen gyms on June 29, but postponed after a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Contra Costa postponed its July 1 reopening of gyms after being placed on the state Department of Public Health watch list for rising COVID-19 cases, and on July 2 announced a new health order establishing mandatory criteria that businesses must meet to reopen. The new order does not include "phases" or specific dates when businesses might reopen — a strategy that county officials say is about long-term risk reduction.

Now that Santa Clara has obtained its variance from the state, it says gyms there could reopen starting July 13. San Francisco says its gyms will reopen in its "August and beyond" period for Phase 3. Other Bay Area counties have opted to not yet specifically address gyms in their reopening schedules, or have not provided a projected date. Alameda, for example, lists gym reopening in its plan, but provides no set timeframe.

Gyms have been among the businesses hit especially hard by coronavirus closures. The San Ramon-headquartered gym chain 24 Hour Fitness announced on June 15 that it was filing for bankruptcy and permanently closing over 100 of its locations, including these 13 in the Bay Area.


Are Bay Area bars reopening? It's... complicated. (Chris F/Pexels)

California's bars were able to reopen starting June 12, according to the latest state guidance, although only ones in counties that met the state's requirements. This latest guidance removes the previous stipulation that a bar had to serve food to be able to serve alcohol, although this rule still applies to bars offering to-go drinks.

On June 28, Newsom ordered the mandatory and immediate closure of all bars for 14 days or more in Los Angeles, Fresno and five other counties on the state's "County Monitoring List," citing the need for Californians to "remain vigilant against this virus" amid rising case numbers. Several other counties were added to that list in July, including Solano, Napa and Contra Costa (Santa Clara has since been removed), with closures to last for at least three weeks.

The rules for bars that have been allowed to remain open are much like those for restaurants, although bars with games like pool tables or shuffleboard are directed to follow the state's guidelines for 'Family Entertainment Centers', which encourage the disinfecting of equipment and the use of partitions between activity spaces to maintain social distancing. Like restaurants, bars are also not yet permitted to host any concerts, performances or private parties.

Like at a restaurant, you can expect to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival, asked to use hand sanitizer and asked to wear a face covering when you're not eating or drinking. An establishment can also cancel your reservation if you arrive with symptoms.

What about the Bay Area?

Bars can now reopen whenever the county you live in allows it (provided your county has met the state's reopening requirements). That goes for all bars, including your local dive that doesn't serve food. Bars still serving "curbside cocktails" must also serve food, however.

Newsom's three-week closure order for bars, wineries and tasting rooms now affects Solano and Napa, where bars and wineries had already opened and must now shut, and Contra Costa, which is pausing any existing plans to reopen these establishments. (Santa Clara was originally on Newsom's watch list, but has now been removed.)

Wineries had opened their doors again several weeks ago in Sonoma and Napa. Sonoma's guidance currently says wineries and breweries can reopen, but not bars, while Napa also initially permitted its bars to reopen (which must now shut.) San Mateo announced its bars were allowed to reopen on June 17.

As for the rest of the Bay Area — you guessed it: It'll be a while, especially if COVID-19 cases keep rising. San Francisco originally set a tentative date of "August and beyond" for its booze-only bars, then moved that up to June 29 for its outdoor bars if the state approved its newly-accelerated timeline for certain businesses — but declared those plans "on hold" due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. The city's revised target date of July 13 is now on hold too.

No other Bay Area counties have given dates for bars to reopen ... yet.


Outdoor dining has reopened around the Bay Area, but dine-in services will be a while longer. (Creative Vix/Pexels)

California already permitted the reopening of restaurants in state-approved counties back in May, although Newsom's July 1 order now mandates the closure of indoor dining in 19 counties.

The latest statewide advisory includes additional guidance for restaurants that haven't been closed, including cleaning protocols, temperature checks for workers, the use of face coverings when not actively drinking or eating and keeping restaurant music low so servers can keep their distance from diners and still hear their orders.

What about the Bay Area?

Outdoor dining service has already been reintroduced in all Bay Area counties, most recently in Alameda County on June 19. (After confusion about whether outdoor dining was permitted in Santa Clara, which was originally on the state watch list, it has now been cleared to return.)

Dine-in restaurant service has also returned to several Bay Area counties including Sonoma, and San Mateo — and had returned to Solano, Marin and Napa, which must now close those establishments owing to their spots on Newsom's watch list. Likewise, Contra Costa must also now halt any plans for reopening indoor restaurants.

All the while, more counties are actively planning for the return of indoor dining, although on July 7 San Francisco announced it was hitting pause on its planned reopening date of July 13.

Check where your county stands here.

Movie Theaters

Movie theaters have been cleared to reopen in California -- with caveats. (Donald Tong/Pexels)

Movie theaters in California were permitted to reopen if they limited theater capacity to 25% or no more than 100 attendees — unless they're in one of the 19 counties that have been ordered to close them.

State guidance recommends movie theaters implement reservation systems, designate arrival times and assign certain seats that people can use so that moviegoers can maintain 6 feet of distance from other groups. Patrons should, at a minimum, wear face coverings when entering and exiting the theater or buying concessions.

What about the Bay Area?

Solano and San Mateo counties permitted movie theaters to reopen at 25%, capacity per state guidance — but Solano must now shut them again, per the state's July 1 order.

We're not seeing any counties with active plans to reopen their indoor movie theaters … yet. That said, a few drive-in movie theaters have reopened in the Bay Area.


California just released new guidelines for schools reopening. (Caleb Oquendo/Pexels)

While the new guidance for California's public schools technically started on June 12, most will reopen with the new school year. In that guidance, California’s education chief provided a glimpse of what 6.2 million California students can expect when they return to school, including temperature checks upon entering schools and buses, extensive hand washing throughout the day, physical distancing requirements and face coverings for students and staff at all times except when eating and drinking.

What about the Bay Area?

The region's public schools remain closed, and still plan to reopen in the fall, along with most other schools in California. Schools in Napa County were actually permitted to reopen June 1 subject to rules and modifications – but the county opted to continue to suspend teaching through the end of the school year.


Indoor museums are cleared for reopening in California — but the Bay Area isn't following suit immediately.
Indoor museums are cleared for reopening in California — but the Bay Area isn't following suit immediately. (Una Laurencic/Pexels)

California had OK'd the reopening of outdoor museums back in May, and then permitted the state's indoor museums to reopen too — including galleries, botanical gardens, zoos and aquariums. The July 1 closure order, however, mandates the shutting of indoor museum and zoo operations in those 19 counties.

The state guidance for these establishment doesn't apply to amusement, theme or water parks, which must remain closed. The guidance issued emphasizes facilitating social distancing and one-way movement through exhibits, and cleaning protocols for shared areas.

What about the Bay Area?

Having reopened their indoor museums, Solano must now shut them again because of Newsom's July 1 closure order. San Mateo isn't on the state's 19-county watch list, so their indoor museums — which recently reopened — can stay open, for now at least.

Contra Costa County postponed the return of indoor museums when they opted to pause their July 1 reopening plans, even before they were included in Newsom's closure order.

San Francisco originally set indoor museum reopenings for "August and beyond," and then moved that up to June 29, according to its newly-accelerated timeline for certain businesses, But the city has now declared the reopening "on hold."

Alameda County says those establishments are still several phases of reopening away. In short: stay tuned, art lovers.

A Final Reminder

Remember: certain businesses and activities remain firmly off California’s list for imminent reopening, including live theater, saunas and steam rooms, nightclubs, concert venues, festivals and theme parks. This means it’ll definitely be more time before you see any of those open back up in the Bay Area, even if Newsom and the state Department of Public Health decide to give the green light.

Regardless of what state officials announce, whether you can finally return to your gym, hair salon or beloved bar in the future is almost entirely dependent on what your particular county decides. How far a county can “reopen” depends on whether it meets certain metrics, including number of cases, positive test rates and testing and tracing capabilities. We're tracking what's reopening around the Bay Area here, but if in doubt, check your county's reopening plans directly below:

This story has been updated.