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4 SoCal Counties That Reopened Restaurants Early Now Lead Statewide COVID-19 Surge

Ventura, Orange, and other counties are seeing a “dangerous” surge in hospitalizations. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County leads the nation in total cases

Coronavirus Social Gathering
Pirate’s Cove in Orange County
Allen J. Schaben / 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.

Four of the first Southern California counties to reopen for dine-in restaurants and bars now lead the state in overall coronavirus hospitalization rates, reports the LA Times. The paper says the numbers coming out of Orange, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties show a “dangerous rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations,” and that those areas are “primarily responsible” for a surge in overall cases statewide. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is now the leading center of the coronavirus outbreak in all of America.

Ventura County was among the first to reopen more broadly as part of California governor Gavin Newsom’s phased-in approach, starting back on May 21. Orange County moved in a week later, opening in time for the long Memorial Day weekend after facing stiff constituent pressure to allow businesses (such as restaurant dining rooms) to reopen, and people to more widely leave their homes. Orange County officials bowed to further pressure just weeks later, rescinding a mandate for people to wear masks when in public, though Gov. Newsom has since mandated masks statewide.

“We’re showing the first signs of starting to lose this battle against COVID-19 in our county,” Ventura County health officer Dr. Robert Levin previously told the county Board of Supervisors, per the Times. In LA, county health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer has noted the uptick comes partially from increased social interactions at places like bars, restaurants, and private parties.

The instructions in Ventura County might be even more surprising: “Ventura County health officials have urged residents to enjoy reopened restaurants, which are governed by strict safety and social distancing rules, rather than having parties and other private events,” says the Times.

Los Angeles reopened its restaurants formally on May 29, as first reported by Eater. Bars reopened across much of Southern California on June 12, with Los Angeles County following on June 19. Restaurants and bars are expected to follow multi-page guidelines set down by city, county, and state officials — including things like operating at limited capacity, reducing surface contacts by removing things like reusable menus and condiments, and mandating that servers wear masks. However, a recent check-in by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health found that half of the restaurants visited for compliance were not properly following the guidelines.

In Orange County, several high-profile restaurants have closed after confirming COVID-19 cases among staff, as has a prominent bakery in Los Angeles. In San Bernardino County, the owner of a popular apple-picking farm and restaurant stop is refusing to comply with Newsom’s state mask-wearing mandate, saying that customers may choose for themselves to wear one or not.