As COVID-19 cases continue to surge and hospitalizations increase, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) announced new dining restrictions that took effect on Nov. 25. The modified public health order prohibits all dining out at County restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars. The new restrictions were announced on Nov. 22. In a sobering milestone, the County reached a new record for daily new COVID-19 cases on Nov. 23, surpassing 6,000. That number was well above the 4,500 new daily case threshold set to prompt a new “Targeted Stay-at-Home Order.”
In a Nov. 22 press release, Public Health officials said, “To reduce the possibility for crowding and the potential for exposures in settings where people are not wearing their face coverings, restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars will only be able to offer take-out, drive thru, and delivery services. Wineries and breweries may continue their retail operations adhering to current protocols. In person dining will not be allowed, at minimum, for the next three weeks.”
However, the County is seeing resistance to the new dining restrictions. Many legislators, businessowners, and county and health officials are speaking out against the ban on in-person dining, saying it would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs. Others question whether restaurants are a major source or contributor to the uptick, instead attributing the county’s current virus surge to private gatherings.
On Nov. 24, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge rejected a request from the California Restaurant Association (CRA) for a temporary restraining order against the plan to end in-person dining. The case challenging the ban will, however, be allowed to proceed. The CRA’s lawsuit also asks that the county provide scientific evidence to support and justify the decision. “The recent order with no stated scientific basis from L.A. County singles out a specific industry and could jeopardize thousands of jobs,” Jot Condie, president/CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement announcing the legal challenge. “There are thousands of restaurants and many thousands more employees who could be out on the street right before the holiday season.”
Also on Nov. 24, county Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn introduced a motion in an effort to keep allowing outdoor dining, arguing the ban would be too challenging for restaurants that are already struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. According to Supervisor Kathryn Barger, “There is no sufficient data to show that outdoor dining has led to significant transmission. … No other county has taken the step to close outdoor dining.”
“I have never experienced the kind of pushback I am hearing,” Hahn said of the in-person dining ban. “The public doesn’t think that that recommendation is right, and they don’t think it’s going to work, and they are really losing faith and trust in the decisions that we’re making.”
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl (who represents Beverly Hills), Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis stood in support of the ban, which was upheld by the Board by a 3-2 vote. On a motion from Barger, the Board approved allocating an additional $10 million in coronavirus relief funding for local businesses, with a focus on restaurants.
“People are absolutely beside themselves, me included” Adam Rubin, co-owner of Croft Alley Beverly Hills, told the Courier. “I think the primary reason being that we’ve spent so much money and so much time trying to ensure everyone’s safety. Between testing, temperature checks, sanitization, building out parklets into the streets and buying extra tables and heaters, we’ve had a lot of expenses.”
“We just feel that it’s unfair to restaurants,” Rubin said. “We finally started to get back on our feet, and now we’re laying off 75 percent of our employees for the second time in a year.” Rubin fears that this latest hurdle could be the nail in the coffin for many restaurants in the City teetering on the edge.
“I understand that desperate and difficult times may demand an equally strong response,” Giuseppe Mollica, the general manager at Via Alloro, told the Courier. “However, I believe that with proper caution and safeguards in place, the closure of outdoor dining may be a little too autocratic…and possibly a little too much, since here in Beverly Hills, the cases have been minimal. At any rate, we’ll abide to the city ordinance, and we hope to be back soon.”
On Nov. 25, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH)
confirmed 4, 311 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 new deaths. To date, the agency has identified 378,323 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County, and a total of 7,543 deaths. In Beverly Hills, there have been 939 cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths. For context, during the summer surge in COVID-19, average daily cases increased 43 percent from June 20 through July 3. According to Public Health, the average daily cases from Oct. 31 through Nov. 13 increased 108 percent.