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What California’s Recent Surge in COVID-19 Cases Means for LA Restaurants

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LA County’s health director made no changes or announcements, but one seems imminent

Daily Life In Los Angeles Amid Coronavirus Outbreak Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

LA County health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer held a press conference yesterday which outlined some grim details for the region and throughout the country. California became the second state, after Texas, to surpass one million COVID-19 cases. As of November 13, LA County now has averaged 2,128 cases a day in the past week, which is likely to increase in the coming weeks with Thanksgiving and December holidays leading more gatherings.

These statistics are similar to those of large cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, where city and state officials are taking new measures to drive infection numbers down. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that restaurants and bars with liquor licenses must close by 10 p.m. San Francisco restaurants must shut down indoor dining today, as coronavirus cases increased by 250 percent in recent weeks. In Chicago, where indoor dining rooms had already been closed, mayor Lori Lightfoot urged workers to call 311 to report irresponsible restaurant owners, while issuing a new stay-at-home and travel advisory.

Ferrer and California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued no such advisories this week, keeping LA County’s outdoor dining in place for now. Like San Diego, Los Angeles remains in the most restrictive purple tier on the state’s reopening system. San Diego restaurants reopened in August for limited capacity indoor dining, but must revert back to delivery and takeout-only beginning Saturday.

Ferrer urged caution and found there is “more evidence that we are seeing increasing community transmission. We most likely haven’t yet seen the full consequence of the surge in cases we recently experienced.”

What does that mean for LA County restaurants? At present, there’s no indication that Los Angeles could follow a similar direction as Chicago, New York, or San Francisco. Ferrer offered no guidance for food businesses yesterday. However, the county could employ certain tools to limit the spread of community transmission, such as eliminating even outdoor dining and returning to a stay-at-home order, which they did in early spring. However, officials could opt to limit hours of operation, which they have not done previously. On November 3, Ferrer told residents to not expect indoor dining for at least this month, or potentially into 2021.

Any actions by health department will have a harsh impact on a battered restaurant industry. Restaurant operators are required to purchase personal protective gear for employees, deal with fewer customers and reduced revenue, and will likely not receive assistance from the federal government.

If and when guidelines are issued, government officials might consider providing as much advance notice as possible. A common complaint among restaurant owners since March has been prompt communication. In late-May, LA County told LA restaurants they were allowed to reopen, but the delay in releasing detailed safety guidelines caused a lot of confusion. In New York this week, restaurants were not provided details by any officials about the new restrictions on their businesses.

In 2020, LA restaurants have changed their business models or learned to adapt to frequently evolving new rules countless times already — anything that could ease upcoming changes will likely feel welcome.