Los Angeles County’s health inspectors visited 2,000 restaurants over the weekend, finding that half of them were not in compliance with safety rules meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, health director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.
The discovery was made as the county continues to gradually lift restrictions, with officials saying a possible spike in infections could be avoided if patrons and businesses followed public safety guidelines.
L.A. County recorded 19 new COVID-19 deaths and another 1,071 cases on Monday, bringing the countywide total to nearly 73,800 with 2,926 deaths attributed to the respiratory illness.
The vast majority of those who have succumbed to COVID-19 in L.A. County — about 93% — have had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said.
Even with hundreds of infections reported each day, officials recently allowed restaurants, gyms, museums, zoos, day camps, campgrounds, hair salons and barbershops to reopen — all with required modifications to allow for physical distancing.
Still closed are bars, night clubs, movie theaters, nail salons, amusement parks, stadiums, arenas and other locations.
Though inspectors have been visiting the newly-reopened business, it’s unclear how the county will ensure compliance with the safety guidelines.
“There should be no places where tables are right next to each other,” Ferrer said. “They either need a six-foot barrier or a physical barrier, those are requirements in the protocols.”
The health director said some owners were confused about the new rules and the department will again be visiting the restaurants that hadn’t made the modifications and “issuing them an order to come into compliance.”
Members of the public can report non-compliant businesses online, Ferrer said.
L.A. County was granted permission from the state of California nearly two weeks ago to reopen restaurants for in-person dining after county officials attested to meeting contact tracing and testing criteria, among other requirements. Restaurants had previously been limited to pick-ups and deliveries.
“I want to note that 50% of the restaurants we visited were in complete compliance, which is way up from where we were the first weekend, so I want to thank all those restaurants that are… doing their very best to adhere to the protocols,” the health director said.
Restaurants can only reopen at 60% occupancy, with modifications made so that patrons can keep 6 feet apart or are separated by partitions. Everyone has to wear face masks when they’re not eating and both staff and customers should be screened for COVID-19 symptoms when walking into restaurants.
The county encouraged eateries to require reservations and have patrons wait for their tables outside. Bar areas inside the restaurants have to stay closed.
The weekly average number of COVID-19 deaths has remained steady for all groups in recent weeks, but the county is behind on its goals for coronavirus testing, according to metrics released by the county.
Overall, the hospitalization rate for COVID-19 is also steady, but the number of available ICU beds has slightly dipped, according to the data.
As of Sunday, 1,383 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county, about 30% in the ICU and 20% of them on ventilators.