After a judge limited Los Angeles County’s outdoor dining ban, the county’s health department said Friday that the ruling created confusion and “incorrectly analyzed” the decision meant to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
“Earlier this week, a Superior Court judge issued a ruling that, in our opinion, creates at a minimum confusion for LA County residents,” the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a statement.
Superior Court Judge James Chalfant on Tuesday said the county’s health director acted “arbitrarily” and failed to show that health benefits outweigh the economic effects in issuing the ban on in-person dining.
But the health department says the Nov. 25 order to halt outdoor dining came because its experts knew that coronavirus infections and hospitalizations were beginning to surge — and the situation has since become even more dire.
“Public Health professionals always, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have the obligation to create effective interventions that prevent and control the spread of communicable disease,” the department said.
When the outdoor dining ban was issued, the seven-day average of daily coronavirus cases was 4,130. Now, that number has exploded to 10,284 and the regional adult intensive care unit capacity stands at just 7.7%.
“Right now, with the amount of community transmission of COVID-19, the transmission risk presented by outdoor dining at a table with others is simply too high and will result in additional cases that the hospital system soon will not be able to absorb,” health officials said.
The judge’s ruling keeps the local order in place through Dec. 16, but L.A. County remains under the state’s regional stay-at-home order that also bans in-person dining at restaurants.
That means L.A. County restaurants won’t be able to offer outdoor dining until at least Dec. 27 — though the state’s order may be extended if intensive care unit capacity at hospitals stays below 15%.
Southern California’s available ICU capacity stood at just 5.3% Saturday.
The orders barring in-person dining quickly drew criticism from restaurant owners and others who vocalized fears that small businesses won’t be able to survive the new restrictions.
But with the rapidly-climbing virus surge bringing record-breaking infection and hospitalization numbers day after day, health officials say restrictions are necessary to prevent disastrous outcomes.
If L.A. County sees another spike because of gatherings during the winter holidays, the infection numbers “could become catastrophic,” the health department said.
On Friday alone, L.A. County reported a record 13,815 coronavirus cases, with 3,624 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized across the county.
“Unfortunately, the decision to require people to stay at home was critically necessary in order to keep hospital operations available for both COVID and non-COVID patients,” the health department said.
“We need to continue to work together while we wait for the mass distribution of the vaccine,” the department said.