Despite what you might be seeing around the county and online, live shows are still not allowed under our current phase of shelter in place. On Aug. 4, the Humboldt Reopening Certification Team sent an email around to restaurants reminding them of the regulations for outdoor tent dining (one side closed only), face coverings (still required outdoors) and the continuing ban on live performances. "Concert, performance, or entertainment venues must remain closed until they are allowed to resume modified or full operation through a specific reopening order or guidance," the email reads. "Establishments that serve full meals must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation." (Read the full announcement below.)
Large gatherings like live performances of plays or music present particularly risky conditions when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 because of aerosols emitted during singing or speaking ("Why Mass Gatherings Terrify Health Officials," May 28). While saliva and mucus droplets fall to the ground, those that evaporate into aerosols can, according to researchers, leave virus particles floating in the air for as long as half an hour. And studies have shown that certain activities — like singing, speaking loudly or breathing heavily — can result in a person releasing more aerosols into the air.
This is why live performances, which are designed to make people linger in a space, where they often have to speak loudly to one another to be heard above the din or are encouraged to sing along with a performer, are still considered higher risk and not yet allowed.
And while the shift from pre-pandemic dining to takeout, outdoor service and reduced indoor seating has cut already slim margins for restaurants, it has been as brutal — if not more so — on those dependent on revenue from events. Theaters have postponed and ultimately canceled their seasons, and nightlife spots like the Griffin are just keeping afloat with takeout food and cocktails in the absence of a social scene that once kept customers drinking and dancing until late.
Since taking over the Siren's Song Tavern and reopening it in August, J.D. Pegg has boosted his insurance to cover outdoor seating, set up tables with heat lamps and lights in front of the Romano Gabriel sculpture garden and expanded the menu to include curries and a globe-trotting selection of instant noodles. It's his hope, he said, to maintain the restaurant/bar as a hub for nightlife and culture in Eureka, bringing back poetry readings, music shows and Fetish Night eventually.
He's already booked some live events, including a comedy last weekend advertised with "Social distancing and other protocols required, both indoor and heated outdoor seating available, as well as masks and hand sanitizer." Unfortunately, none of these measures makes live events compliant with current regulations.
When informed by the Journal of the conflict via text message, Pegg responded, "I need to have socially distanced events, or this place will go out of business and then there will be zero events forever." He also noted open casinos (which, since they are on sovereign tribal land, are not subject to county or state orders) and sidewalk busking that make the regulations seem arbitrary. Another Facebook event post advertising an upcoming karaoke night at the venue promises, "Karaoke with friends will have you feeling Back-to-Normal in no time!" But however much we might want it, we're not back to normal yet.
Pegg said he later received a call from the Office of Emergency Services following up on an anonymous tip about live performances at Siren's Song Tavern. When the Journal asked if he still intended to go forward with the event, he declined to comment. Members of the band The Undercovers who played an indoor ticketed show at the venue on the following Saturday, Sept. 12, which the Journal learned of after the original posting of this story, also declined to comment.
“Business-wise, that’s a big hit but it’s also the connection … to the community and why you’re in business,” said Johanna Nagan, owner of Blondie's Food & Drink, which also counts on students from Humboldt State University. Nights with bands, open mics and other events brought in customers and boosted sales pre-COVID-19, but they also gave artists a venue to perform and customers a shared experience. "When you’re not able to provide and connect, it’s a double hit.”
Nagan said the business is getting by largely on its takeout sandwiches, breakfasts and beer, as well as limited patio seating that she means to keep limited. Trusting people to self regulate their social distancing gets harder after a few pints, she said, and while the regulations might allow more seating, more people gathering doesn't feel like the safest option. There was a brief discussion of trying to run the popular Science on Tap event outdoors, “but some of those got really busy, and it’s like the second level of stress of keeping people safe.” That's the question Nagan returns to after her questions about compliance rules are answered: "What is it to keep people safe?"
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the Sept. 12 live show at the Siren's Song Tavern.
The Emergency Operations Center is reaching out to clarify the regulations surrounding outdoor dining. Restaurant owners should be aware of the following:
- Outdoor operations may be conducted under a tent, canopy, or other sun shelter, but only as long as no more than one side is closed, allowing sufficient outdoor air movement.
- All industry or sector guidance documents that have been issued to date, including the use of face coverings, which is mandated statewide apply in outdoor settings, and thus must be adhered to.
- Concert, performance, or entertainment venues must remain closed until they are allowed to resume modified or full operation through a specific reopening order or guidance. Establishments that serve full meals must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation.
The above can be referenced at the following link:
Please each out if you have any questions or concerns.
Thank you for your contribution to your community,
Humboldt Reopening Certification Team
Reopening Plan Line: 707-353-5408
Humboldt COVID Info Line: 707-441-5000
Business Owner Guidance: https://humboldtgov.org/2758/
County Website: https://humboldtgov.org/