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Enforcing social distancing is difficult despite being 'very strict,' Stockton bar owner says

The California Department of Public Health identifies bars as "the highest risk sector of non-essential business currently open."

STOCKTON, Calif. — On Grand Canal Boulevard in Stockton, Basil's Spirits and Sandwiches is coming out of survival mode.

The restaurant and bar has been open in the same location for 37 years, said its owner DeeDee Sbragia. Because of the coronavirus, at one point, about 90% of Basil's business dried up.

"A lot of our customers who were afraid at that time just quit coming. So, we tried to keep the doors open, and we were kind of happy when this next phase came in," Sbragia said of Phase 3 of California's reopening strategy.

In May, Governor Gavin Newsom announced restaurants could reopen for dining in, which meant so too could their bar areas.

For Basil's, which only has limited bar seating, the change meant everything. 

"Usually our bar holds about — I'm looking at it, 15 stools," Sbragia said while inside of her restaurant. "We've got maybe six people at it spaced [out] right now."

On Sunday, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered bars to close in San Joaquin, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, and Tulare counties. He also recommended bars close in Sacramento, Stanislaus, San Bernardino and four other California counties.

The following day, Sacramento County announced that it would close bars effective Monday night.

The California Department of Public Health identifies bars as "the highest risk sector of non-essential business currently open."

The new public health guidance said all counties on the state's watch list for three or more consecutive days, but less than 14 days, are recommended to close their bars.

For counties that have been on the watch list for 14 days or more, bars in those areas will be required to immediately close.

San Joaquin County had yet to reopen its bars that were not already inside of restaurants.

The closures mean that "all bars, brewpubs, breweries and pubs" have to close for dine-in services unless the alcohol is being sold with meals, which is something that Basil's can do.

Still, Sbragia said it's not easy to get people to maintain social distancing in a bar setting, even one her size.

"It's hard, because people like to stand at the bar and congregate at the end," Sbragia said about enforcing social distancing in her establishment.

"And our bartenders are very strict right now," she added.

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Kurt Rivera.

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