L.A. County ban on in-person dining begins ahead of Thanksgiving amid spike in COVID-19 cases

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Los Angeles County is preparing to temporarily pause outdoor dining starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday as officials try to slow down a sharp increase of new coronavirus cases.

Under the modified health officer order, restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars won’t be permitted to offer a dine-in option to customers for at least the next three weeks, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Those businesses can still do take-out, drive thru, and delivery services.

Restaurants had only been allowed to offer outdoor — and no indoor — dining due to the county remaining in the restrictive “purple” tier of California’s four-tiered, color-coded reopening plan.

The action on outdoor dining, first announced Sunday, was triggered by the county reaching a five-day case average of 4,000.

“The persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks,” county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement that day.

Some Los Angeles County supervisors have expressed concern that there is no local data suggesting that outdoor dining is fueling the spike in new cases.

At the county board’s meeting Tuesday, Supervisor Kathryn Barger introduced a motion that would have allowed restaurants to continue serving customers outdoors, with capacity limited to 50%.

She said that the evidence for the recommendation presented by county health officials, including Ferrer and county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis, did not demonstrate a clear link between outdoor dining and the recent acceleration of coronavirus cases locally.

“After hearing Dr. Davis say that the evidence being used is the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] study, and it’s the best info we have — after seven months, we have not been tracking that info — actually reaffirms how upset I am about the fact that I feel this is arbitrary and punitive toward outdoor dining at restaurants,” Barger said.

She also argued that the health order will add to the devastation of local businesses already struggling to recover in the wake of mandated closures during the pandemic — a point underscored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the only other board member who supported Barger’s motion.

Hahn pointed out that, unlike the stay-at-home order issued in March that halted indoor dining for months, this time restaurant owners and employees won’t have the benefit of receiving financial aid from the federal government.

“To close restaurants down at this point … without money to pay these workers, to pay these restaurants — I think we are careening down another economically tragic road,” Hahn said.

Barger’s motion fell by a 3-2 vote, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joining colleagues Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis in opposition.

The closures will deal yet another blow to local restaurants, many of which spent money to expand their operations to sidewalks and parking lots to comply with the outdoor dining rules.

The timing of the order — the day before Thanksgiving — could not be worse, according to at least one restaurant owner.

Without outdoor dining, employees may be let go right as the holidays are getting underway. And restaurants will be left to figure out what to do if they have a surplus of food purchased for Thanksgiving — not to mention how to adjust to the loss of income from fewer customers.

Jordan Ogron, the owner of Tesse in West Hollywood, says that a restaurant can’t just be turned on and off like a light switch, and he urged state and local officials to help out the industry.

“If you’re so quick to shut us down, then you should be just as quick to help devise a plan to get us back open,” Ogron said. “We should not be using our own funds to do this. If you’re going to take money out of our pocket, put money in our pocket to get us back open.” 

The California Restaurant Association challenged the outdoor dining in ban in court on Tuesday, but the request was denied by an L.A. Superior Court judge.

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