Outdoor dining can resume in L.A. County, but no TV allowed and no more than 6 people per table

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After a two-month ban, Los Angeles County restaurants are once again welcoming customers for outdoor dining Friday.

California state officials lifted the regional stay-at-home order earlier this week, and L.A. County officials announced that restaurants, wineries and breweries will be allowed to resume operations — with safety precautions in place.

But when the eateries reopen, they can’t have televisions on, according to the county’s new health officer order.

Also, no more than six people can be seated per table, and all must be from the same household, officials said. Other restrictions include placing outdoor tables at least 8 feet apart, and waiters and other staff who come in contact with customers wear both a face covering and a face shield at all times.

Breweries may reopen for outdoor dining, while wineries may reopen for outdoor wine tastings.

Additionally, nonessential businesses that had been ordered to close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. will be allowed to reopen during those hours.

The loosened restrictions come amid a decline in daily coronavirus infection numbers. But since announcing the reopenings, health officials have repeatedly stressed that the county isn’t out of the woods yet and urged residents to remain cautious of spreading the virus.

“Let’s not forget that before the surge overtook LA County, who were reporting 1,200 cases a day. Today, we’re still seeing between 6000 and 7000 people test positive for COVID-19 every day,” L.A. County Health Officer Muntu Davis said in a news conference. “This is still a very high number of positive cases.”

With the Super Bowl coming up as restaurants, breweries and wineries reopen, health officials fear it could become a “super spreader” event. That’s likely what led to a ban on turning on televisions at the eateries.

“It will be tragic if the Super Bowl becomes the Super Spreader of coronavirus,” L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday, urging residents to avoid gatherings and refrain from throwing Super Bowl parties.

Ferrer warned that if the reopenings cause another spike in infections that again strains hospitals, the county will see strict restrictions return.

“It is really up to us whether we can sustain reopenings without jeopardizing each other’s health and our ability to get more schools to reopen,” Ferrer said Wednesday. “The only way for this to occur is to keep doing what keeps the virus in check.”

Davis said diners should keep their masks on as much as possible, especially when a server approaches or when leaving the table. He also advised restaurant patrons to wash their hands often and bring hand sanitizer with them.

“Restaurants will take steps to protect customers so we need customers to take steps to protect restaurant staff as well as others around them,” the health officer said. 

Asked about how the county plans to enforce the rule that only members of the same household can dine out together, Davis said: “we’re hoping that everybody does the right thing,” adding that restaurants have to put up signs and inform customers about the restriction. 

Bars and restaurants have been among the hardest hit as the county scrambled to put restrictions in place to stem the spread of the virus.

“This is the best gift ever that we are open back for outdoor dining,” said AJ Cavali, manager at Crave Cafe in Studio City.

The restaurant manager said Crave lost 95% of its business with the closures and fought hard to survive. That’s the reality for businesses in the region, many of which reported having to lay off staff or shut down completely as they felt the financial crush of the closures.

L.A. County suspended in-person dining on Nov. 25, saying the ban would last at least three weeks due to an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases. Before that, residents were only allowed to eat outdoors at restaurants — many of which had expanded onto sidewalks and bought canopies to comply with the rules.

A judge later limited the local dining ban to three weeks. But restaurants in L.A. County still couldn’t open because of the state’s stay-at-home order, which initially was set to ban in-person dining at restaurants until at least Dec. 27.

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