Bars, wineries reopen as Fresno seeks balance between financial and public health

The good times are back at bars and wineries in Fresno County today, but with an eye towards making sure nothing goes bad.

The red pouring at Engelmann Cellars this weekend is wine for once instead of red ink on the business ledger.

"It's kind of back to business as usual the way it used to be with a lot of restrictions," said Bret Engelmann of Engelmann Cellars west of Fresno. "Of course, less capacity, certain other little things we have to do so it's gonna be different, but we can actually go back to wine tasting."

State and Fresno County public health officials cleared the way for wineries and bars to reopen, but with protocols in place to protect drinkers and employees.

Every wine sample has to be served in its own glass, and both wineries and bars have to try to make sure groups don't overlap.

"We're using a digital waitlist so people can arrive a their tables are ready so we're not creating a backlog," said Po Tsai, a partner at The Modernist cocktail bar in downtown Fresno. "People can remain spaces and we don't have a line out the door."

Fresno County's interim health officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, says the public health strategy here has proved to be successful at protecting the healthcare system from getting overloaded.

But he says reopening parts of the economy is the prudent thing to do to get people back to work and hopefully to get them in a better state of mental health.

It just needs to happen carefully because - with weekly case counts higher than ever and the number deaths also climbing - the success so far is fragile.

"You don't have to hit every bar, but you know, go out and just enjoy at least one drink at your favorite bar, tip your bartender extremely well, and then after you've had time to do that, really settle down and say 'Look, we're not through this pandemic yet'," Dr. Vohra said. "You will get to do things you enjoy, but you'll need to be very mindful of the rest of the community so that we can continue to do the things that we enjoy without really capsizing our healthcare system."

At Engelmann, that could mean enjoying a 20th anniversary wine almost nobody has had the chance to sample.

"I made this wine for sitting on the lawn," said Bret Engelmann. "It's just a nice easy blend."

The lawn is a couple of acres, with the length of a football field to establish social distancing.

So they're hoping to draw a reasonable crowd without contributing to the spread of the virus.

Some of their neighbors, like Nonini, are waiting a week and watching so they have an example to follow.
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