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LA County Supervisor Openly Opposes Restaurant Shutdown In Stunning Rebuke to Health Department

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Kathryn Barger calls the closures, set to take effect on Wednesday night, an ‘unnecessary restriction’

Customers dine in the Hollywood Riviera area of Redondo Beach. 
Customers dine in the Hollywood Riviera area of Redondo Beach
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger publicly announced on November 23 that she opposes the forthcoming shutdown of on-site, outdoor dining in LA County, which is set to go into effect this Wednesday, November 25 beginning at 10 p.m. (indoor dining has not been allowed since mid-July). Barger plans to make the case against the modified public health order at tomorrow’s Board of Supervisors meeting, her office noted in a release sent to media. Barger’s opposition does not mean that the board will push formally to rescind the health department’s modified order, though it does indicate that further changes to the policy could still be in the works.

In response to questions sent by Eater earlier today, reps for Barger said this evening that “the Board can author a motion to direct the Department of Public Health to act if they choose,” essentially forcing Dr. Ferrer to forego the planned shutdown on Wednesday, but that no one believes such measures will be necessary. Officials will be discussing the looming restaurant shutdown and the likely return of a modified safer-at-home order at tomorrow’s Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

“These proposed measures by the Department of Public Health will further devastate local businesses and employees who have been asked to shoulder an unfair burden this year,” Barger, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “Businesses throughout the County have invested thousands of dollars to ensure safety for their employees and customers only to be punished for the recent surge they have done everything in their power to prevent.”

“Increased case counts are not coming from businesses reopening,” the statement also reads, “but from large gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks.”

The release today from Barger, a Republican who represents the county’s fifth supervisorial district, puts her at direct odds with Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s health director — and the contrast is stark, considering how closely the two have worked in the past year to jointly combat the ongoing pandemic. Barger and Dr. Ferrer often appear together at weekly joint public briefings informing the public of the spread of COVID-19.

Barger, for her part, acknowledges that restaurants have been found to be a source of traced transmission within the county — roughly 10 to 15 percent of cases. Still, her office says in the release, “hospitalization rates are among the lowest we’ve seen” during the pandemic, and the fatality rate has fallen from four percent to two percent since June.

2019 Homeless count report
LA County supervisor Kathryn Barger
Photo by Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Furthermore, Barger’s office says that when the Department of Public Health agreed to open bars (those that don’t serve food) back in June, the county’s positivity rate was higher (nine percent then, under seven percent now) and that total hospitalizations were roughly the same. Beginning in mid-October, COVID-19 cases began to rise precipitously again, leading to rolling countywide closures set from the state level down. And then there’s this troubling stat: “DHS modeling projects that nearly two million, or one in six LA County residents, have had COVID-19.”

Barger’s firm stance is certainly new among county politicians, most of whom have been in lock-step with the Department of Public Health during the pandemic. The state has had well north of 1 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with nearly 19,000 deaths. Over the weekend, more than 7,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases hit LA County. The county is already under a recently-implemented modified stay at home order once again, including a curfew for all non-essential travel that lasts from 10 p.m. nightly until 6 a.m. the following day, though many county officials across the state are saying that they won’t actively enforce such measures.

This story has been updated with a response from Barger’s office regarding the board of supervisors’ ability to force the Department of Public Health to rescind its modified public health order that would shut down outdoor restaurant dining starting on Wednesday, November 25 at 10 p.m.