As COVID-19 cases rise, Marin County restaurant voluntarily closes, citing health concerns 

SAN ANSELMO, Calif. (KGO) -- With COVID-19 cases on the rise in California, some restaurant owners are now facing another dilemma: Do they stay open to help the economy or close to protect public health?

In Marin County, one owner spent thousands to outfit her patio for the winter months, only to decide it's best to close.

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Soo Young Kim, who owns Bistro Viz in San Anselmo, said she spent the past few weeks obsessing over the Election and didn't look at COVID-19 cases until a few days ago. What she saw shocked her with cases rising around the world and here in the U.S.

"I didn't realize the magnitude and I was absolutely flabbergasted," Young told ABC7 News. "It took me seconds to come to the realization that we couldn't do this."

Young made the difficult decision less than two weeks after she had a $15,000 tent installed over her restaurant's outdoor patio, an investment for the winter months. But even that cannot protect from COVID-19, and now her tent and matching outdoor curtains will no longer be put to use.

"With this patio enclosed, there wouldn't be enough airflow to really make this an outdoor space," she explained. "And I couldn't risk my health...my customers', the staff and we just decided to close."

In-person dining is considered one of the highest risk places for transmission.

A new study from Stanford shows restaurants may be four times riskier than gyms and coffee shops.

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A large reason is masks. People take off their masks at restaurants and keep them off for an extended period of time.

Young's partner, Erich Lichtblau, said he's also concerned by the number of diners coming from outside Marin County.

Recently, one customer brought along a relative visiting from Florida. "And I just thought, you know, really?" Lichtblau said. "It's great you think it's worth seeing your relative, but you just made me see them. And that's kind of scary."

Young and Lichtblau know closing may seem too difficult and might not work for everyone. But for them, staying open is just not worth it.

"As much as we all think there aren't any cases here," Lichtblau said, "that's the attitude that brings cases here."

Young says she hopes to reopen in March, but will let the data drive her decision.

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