BY ELINA SHATKIN
Originally published on November 23, 2020
Additional reporting by Gina Pollack and Monica Bushman.
As of 10 p.m. on Wednesday, November 25, restaurants and bars in Los Angeles County will have to stop all dine-in service (most of which is outdoors these days) for at least three weeks. During that period, they’ll only be able to offer takeout, drive-through and delivery.
These are the most stringent restrictions imposed on local dining and drinking establishments since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Many have been hanging on by a thread and for some, the new public health order will likely be a death blow.
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger says she will oppose the newly revised Public Health Order at Tuesday’s meeting of the board.
“For me, it’s about a lack of consistency,” Barger said on KPCC’s Take Two today. “Our own public health director has said that more than 50% of the positives being reported are the result of private social gatherings with someone who tested positive.”
Barger attributed some of the rise in coronavirus case rates to increased testing. She also cited illegal house parties and large private gatherings as major causes of accelerating COVID-19 numbers. She said she wants to see a more stringent crackdown on these events.
“That’s where I’m focusing and that’s who I’m holding accountable. I’m not going to sit back and say that the restaurant industry should have to shoulder the financial burden for something that is, from a health standpoint, causing this virus to spread,” Barger told Take Two.
Karen Ross, co-owner of The Tallyrand, said the ban on outdoor dining will be devastating for her Burbank restaurant.
“It’s debilitating to us. Our hours will be reduced. We will offer only takeout, which will take us from doing about 65% of our usual pre-COVID sales back to 30%. It’s awful, anyway you look at it,” Ross said.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is set to discuss the matter at a meeting on Tuesday, November 24. It’s unclear how many allies Barger, the sole Republican on the five-member board, will have on this issue.
L.A. County saw 6,124 new cases of coronavirus today. At a press conference today, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, noted this is the highest weekly spike in cases she has seen.
Ferrer acknowledged the “devastating sacrifices” some people have had to make. She also emphasized that one of her primary concerns is slowing the coronavirus transmission rate so medical facilities aren’t overwhelmed.
“We know this has created a lot of hardship for so many and we are hopeful that with these actions, we do get back to slowing the spread and we are able, once again, to reopen for our restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars for in-person dining,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer noted that while most restaurants have complied with safety mandates, almost 20% of restaurants have had issues, mainly regarding social distancing, and that translates to approximately 6,000 restaurants.
Ferrer also noted that in the two-week period from October 30 to November 14, she has seen a more than 300% rise in coronavirus outbreaks linked to food facilities.
For restaurateurs like Ross, the three-week shutdown of outdoor dining feels unjustified.
“I am just completely exasperated by it because I really don’t believe, as do many other restaurant owners that I’ve talked to, that outdoor dining… we’re the source of that. It’s debilitating. I’ve got a crew of probably 24 people that I’ve got to let go or they’d have to take a furlough… I hope it’s only three weeks,” Ross said.
At tomorrow’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Barger says she plans to ask for additional CARES Act money to help restaurants, but she acknowledged, “We don’t have an infinite amount of money to spread and given the impact this has had, and not just on the restaurant industry but across the board, it’s not realistic to believe we’re going to be able to plug that financial hole.”
When asked on Friday at a press conference how many people became infected by dining outside at a restaurant, Ferrer said she couldn’t say for certain. But she spoke generally about restaurants and bars being riskier than other kinds of businesses because patrons have to take off their masks to eat.
In a follow-up statement, a spokesperson from Ferrer’s office said, “Most people don’t know where they got infected… Everywhere people interact is a risk, indoor is worse than outdoor, without a mask is worse than with. Our data presents evidence that gatherings are increasing, and gatherings are one of the drivers for the increases in cases in L.A. County.”
That spokesperson cited a survey conducted by USC’s Center for Social and Economic Research, which found that in the week ending October 20, more than 10% of respondents reported they had been at a gathering of 10 or more people in the past seven days. With cooler weather and major holidays coming up, health officials are worried people are more likely to gather indoors and spread the virus.
Los Angeles County residents are probably in store for an even stricter stay-at-home order than the ones issued last week.
Health officials had warned last week that more restrictions would come if the number of new coronavirus cases reached a certain threshold. We hit that threshold this weekend.
The county’s five-day average case rate has topped 4,500. Officials had previously said that when this happened, they would consider issuing another safe-at-home order, similar to the one they issued in March at the onset of the pandemic. Ferrer today indicated that public health officials are already talking with county officials about this.
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2020 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.