SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Two local strip clubs ordered to close down amid a surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths across California are allowed to remain open, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The court order also appears to offer protection to restaurants prompting the county to suspend enforcement of the state's COVID-19 public safety policy on barring indoor-outdoor dining.
In the nine-page ruling, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the cease-and-desist order from being enforced on strip clubs and "San Diego County businesses with restaurant service" from operating.
The order, effective immediately, still requires businesses to adhere to COVID safety protocols.
Eateries had been ordered to close indoor operations in November when the county fell into the state's purple tier restrictions, then were restricted to takeout and delivery service only earlier this month.
San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman told ABC 10News that both state and county authorities are examining Wednesday's ruling and will seek clarity from the court. Until then, the county will cease pursuing the shutdown of restaurants and strip clubs.
"Until we have clarity, we have suspended enforcement activities against restaurants and live entertainment establishments," Workman wrote in a statement. "With record numbers of new infections, deaths, and ICUs at capacity, we want to remind everyone to do your part. Please don’t gather, socially distance, wear a face covering, and wash your hands."
Wohlfeil cited the lack of evidence from the County that proves the two live adult entertainment venues would increase the risk of exposure to patrons or that the establishments have impacted ICU bed capacity throughout Southern California, “much less in San Diego County.”
“Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have been devoid of COVID, have done nothing to contribute to the spread of COVID, and have honored their representations to Dr. Joel Day and the County,” said Wohlfeil, according to court records.
Wohlfeil also said that the harm of denying the injunction would be greater to the strip clubs more than the harm to the County.
Wednesday’s ruling is effective pending the trial in the case brought by Midway Ventures and F-12, the owners of Pacers Showgirls and Cheetahs Gentleman's Club against the County of San Diego and state in October over COVID-19 restrictions that forced them to close. A preliminary injunction was granted to the strip clubs on Nov. 6 protecting them from any enforcement, though the businesses must comply with rules surrounding a 10 p.m. curfew and close early.
Wohlfeil's order comes after California Governor Gavin Newsom and the state’s Attorney General officials served a cease-and-desist letter over the weekend to the two San Diego strip clubs operating amid the state's stay-at-home order.
The letter to the attorneys representing Pacers Showgirls and Cheetahs Gentleman's Club said the state was informed the locations had been operating indoors despite restrictions forcing restaurants to offer only take-out and delivery services under the order.
"We are informed and believe that MIDWAY AND F-12 are continuing to conduct indoor operations notwithstanding the Regional Stay at Home Order currently in effect in the County of San Diego. Such indoor operations violate the terms of the Regional Stay at Home Order, which permits restaurants, such as those run by MIDWAY AND F-12, to operate for take-out and delivery services only," the letter said.
Last week, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said that the majority of the board doesn't view strip clubs as essential and "felt that was consistent with common sense."
"I’m guessing most folks aren’t going there with all the members of their household, so you have multiple households interacting together in a high-risk setting and so we ordered them closed," Fletcher said.