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Here’s What LA County’s New Coronavirus Guidelines Could Mean for Local Restaurants

LA’s Health Department issued recommendations for those with underlying health conditions, which directly impacts dining out — as well as self-serve buffets

A server asks for information from diners at a barbecue restaurant.
A server asks for information from diners at a barbecue restaurant.
Wonho Frank Lee
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed its first novel coronavirus death today in a public briefing, along with a total of 27 confirmed cases throughout LA County. The Health Department also issued new recommendations for residents and visitors, which could change the landscape for those venturing to any restaurant, food event, bar, or food hall in the nation’s most populous county.

At today’s press conference, the Health Department suggested that the most vulnerable — including those who are pregnant, elderly, or have underlying health issues — should stay home and avoid public spaces entirely, especially anywhere that “large groups” are gathering. (The agency declined to define what constitutes a “large group.”) This updated guidance means that at-risk populations should not only continue to steer clear of public events or spaces with substantial crowds, it implies that they should avoid dining out as well.

LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer also provided details about the County’s first coronavirus death. The 60-year-old woman, who was not an LA resident and had underlying health issues, visited the area after extensive travel within the last 30 days, which included a layover in South Korea. Dr. Ferrer also confirmed a new case that she defined as a “community transmission,” where officials could not identify the source of exposure.

Dr. Ferrer also outlined plans, which follow guidelines from the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention:

“We will be asking all of our businesses (and) all of our event venues to put in place the plans that they need to have should we continue to see an acceleration of community transmission that calls for more social distancing. More social distancing could mean spectator-free sporting events, it could certainly mean canceling large events throughout LA County. And while we’re not there yet, we do need to get prepared for the eventuality that we will see many more cases. And because of that, we need to all do a lot more social distancing.”

According to Dr. Ferrer, social distancing helps slow the spread of infectious disease. She calls this the next best tool to vaccination, which is not yet available for coronavirus. She also spoke of what could be next, where events could be canceled:

“We will get to a point, unfortunately, here in LA County where we will be asking for events to close, but we’re not there yet.”

This sort of policy can have an impact on events like L.A. Taco’s Birriamania, which is still scheduled to take place on March 21. L.A. Taco editor Javier Cabral confirmed to Eater LA about their plans. “We’re waiting for guidance from the local authorities and from the venue,” says Cabral. “We are monitoring the situation closely along with Santa Anita Park, but no decision has been made as of yet.”

Dr. Ferrer also has recommendations at self-serve or buffets:

“We’ve actually started issuing guidance that we think is best (at) self-serve buffets. It’s really best at this point if there are servers at the self-serve buffets. In places where it’s not happening, we would urge the general public to take a lot of precautions about making sure everything is being done at those self service stations to limit the possibility of people touching the food and then you’re touching and eating that food.” She emphasized that this approach applies to coronavirus, norovirus, or any other transmittable disease.

The approach is a cautious one, especially on the same day where the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus as a pandemic. This has the potential to reach every aspect of the food industry, from major events being shut down, to the relevance of paid sick leave.