Live Entertainment Venues Wait to Reopen as COVID-19 Cases Rise

Old Town Improv owner gives up his venue and shuts down business, for now, as county pauses reopenings due to the novel coronavirus spread

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The county recently put future reopenings on hold, putting the few businesses that have not yet reopened in limbo as the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases among total tests performed rises.

Donny Dunstone, the owner of Old Town Improv, said he made the tough decision to give up his venue and temporarily close the business in March.

“This is my baby,” said Dunstone, as he looked back at the empty venue. He told NBC 7 opening the improv studio was a long-time dream but what he misses the most is being on stage and engaging with the community.

But when San Diego public health leaders put a hold on reopening more businesses after one of the county's 13 "trigger" criteria was met -- due to surpassing seven outbreaks in community settings over a seven day period -- he felt some relief.

“It makes me feel like I made the right decision,” Dunstone said. “I really believe it’s going to be about January when people feel comfortable to get back out there in crowds again.”

Meanwhile, some comedy clubs with restaurants are operating again, despite not yet being included in the state's phased reopening plan.

California state guidance on reopening restaurants and bars reads: “This guidance is not intended for concert, performance, or entertainment venues. Restaurants, bars, and wineries must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation."

Dunstone is offering online improv classes and corporate training using improv techniques as a way to maintain business but is still eagerly awaiting a reopening, getting back on stage and working with his colleagues.

“I’ll get the sign back up,” Dunstone said as he looked back at the wall, where his sign once was on display. “Might be a different name, we don’t know. Might be ‘Formerly known as Old Town Improv.'"

On Tuesday the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to request guidance from the state on allowing resumption of several activities, including private planned events, wedding receptions, hotel conferences, street fairs and team competitions.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher voted against the proposal because it was "reckless and irresponsible" given the county's trigger dashboard was in negative territory.

For the last six days, the county has seen more than seven community outbreaks over a seven day period, indicating that the spread among community settings like businesses, restaurants, churches and backyard settings is increasing, the county said.

The board said, even if guidance was given by the state, the county would not approve such measures until Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten agreed it was safe to do so.

Wooten told the board that as of now, "we couldn't recommend any opening in the next week or next couple of weeks, in terms of opening up broad industries, if (community) outbreaks continue."

"If we're above seven community outbreaks, it would be ill-fated'' to make such recommendations, she said.

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