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Los Angeles County Restaurants Can Open Tonight

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The surprise reopening comes even though the county delayed in releasing detailed safety guidelines

Kitchen at M.Georgina in Downtown LA in early March, before the state-mandated shut downs of restaurant dining rooms
Kitchen at M.Georgina in Downtown LA in early March, before the state-mandated shut downs of restaurant dining rooms
Wonho Frank Lee

County officials today laid out a few more specifics for the broad reopening of restaurant dining rooms in Los Angeles, saying in a press conference that businesses who meet health and safety protocols can open immediately. However, the full slate of approved protocols from the county did not become available until hours after the announcement was made.

The full list of protocols includes full details on spacing tables at least six feet apart, shifting dining room capacity to 60% for the next three weeks, providing personal protective equipment to employees, and building physical barriers between tables where such distancing is otherwise not possible. Supervisor Kathryn Barger said that a full slate of countywide guidelines would be released shortly; the city’s guidelines were posted earlier this week.

The full .pdf of the necessary guidelines from the county can now be found here.

“If you can operate under the directives”, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county public health supervisor, “then yes, the order goes into effect today.”

“We’re all really hungering for some return to normalcy,” Ferrer also said during the press conference, though she added that the novel coronavirus was still very much active within the county, and that business precautions would remain in place for some time. “We join you in being very hopeful” for a safe reopening, Ferrer said.

“This is a fine line that we’re walking in the county of Los Angeles,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn said to the LA Times earlier today. “We are threading the needle between keeping the public safe and allowing our economy to reopen.”

The news follows governor Gavin Newsom’s approval Friday of the county’s reopening plan for restaurants, hair salons, and barbershops, which was submitted on Wednesday; that approval was first confirmed by Eater on Thursday night. County officials were required to provide data that showed the region was meeting necessary benchmarks for the slowing of novel coronavirus spread, including a low total infection rate and an availability of necessary hospital beds in the event of a second spike in COVID-19 infections. Los Angeles has been working to continue to flatten the curve of the coronavirus spread, but just recorded its largest single-day spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases this week.

Neighboring counties like Ventura, Kern, and Orange have already been approved for reopening, with similar health and safety protocols in place. However, not all operators are comfortable allowing diners to once again sit inside, even if government officials give approval to do so. Some restaurants have already been turning away delivery drivers who have not been wearing masks or practicing social distancing, and others have closed completely in order to keep employees safe.

The City of Los Angeles has published its own manual for reopening that stretches to 17 pages of requirements and suggestions, including having business stockpiles of personal protective equipment, and mandating hand-washing breaks and distancing between employees within the kitchen.

Dr. Ferrer said that there will not be a required county inspection for restaurants before they are allowed to reopen. “We’re hoping that the protocols are a good guideline to use,” said Ferrer of the guidelines. “This is like the honor system.”

Today’s reopening announcement offers a tricky proposition to business owners, employees, and diners: Unemployment is over 20 percent countywide, with 80 percent of all restaurant jobs having disappeared. But without proper safety protocols in place, many returning workers— including tens of thousands of undocumented restaurant workers — face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 while at work. Many of the most vulnerable are also people of color, reports the NY Times, both in facing unemployment and in contracting COVID-19.

Nationwide, workers are heavily conflicted about reopening restaurants and putting themselves at increased risk, even as the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, and the entire state of California continue to slowly come back online.

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