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Half of LA Bars, Restaurants Still Not Following Rules as COVID-19 Cases Top 100,000

The state’s surging coronavirus numbers are putting ICU beds in jeopardy, and could lead the governor to “toggle back” on reopenings — including for restaurants

Sign from LA restaurant
Sign from LA restaurant
Wonho Frank Lee
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 officials are once again urging residents to ramp up their social distancing efforts, to wear masks in public, and to stay home whenever possible as a means of limiting further community spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. County health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer pointed particularly to restaurants and retail sectors as areas of concern.

“Our inspectors provided 83 percent of restaurants they visited with copies of the protocols,” Dr. Ferrer added, “because they were struggling to be in compliance.” Investigators also found that at least some employees at 54 percent of bars they assessed were not wearing face masks and shields, compared to 44 percent for the restaurants they visited. 49 percent of bars and one-third of restaurants were also not practicing or enforcing social distance rules, mandating the spacing of tables and of people inside the businesses.

Dr. Ferrer said that roughly half of all of those businesses investigated were still not complying with the mandated protocols set forth with reopening. Bars, wineries, tasting rooms, and breweries in Los Angeles and seven other counties in California have all been mandated to close once again by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and restaurants may not be far behind.

“While we know that there are many businesses that are following the rules,” Dr. Ferrer said in her weekly public address, “the data indicates that we have a problem with the number of businesses that have not come into compliance. Our collective actions, from both businesses and individuals, is the only way that we can slow community spread.”

The numbers have proven to be so alarming, California governor Gavin Newsom is considering a plan to “toggle back” on certain phases of reopening, including for restaurants.

Updated countywide numbers released today confirm that Los Angeles is reaching some of its highest levels in troubling areas like hospitalization rates and positivity rates, with the timing of the county’s reopening of restaurants, hair salons, gyms, and bars. There are currently 100,000 confirmed cases in Los Angeles County.

Los Angeles is currently seeing the “highest number of hospitalizations reported in many, many weeks,” Dr. Ferrer said today. Some 26 percent of those hospitalized are now in intensive care, and 17 percent are on ventilators, she said. That includes a 43 percent spike in cases among people aged 18 to 40, a number that began to ramp up as counties across Southern California reopened for some businesses in late May. Now those counties, including Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino, are seeing staggering increases of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and Los Angeles is leading the nation as a whole in total confirmed cases.

LA County

Restaurant and bar owners have faced a roller coaster of issues since this spring, beginning with the mandated closures of dining rooms and bars back in March. Takeout and delivery-only models followed, along with relaxed guidelines on selling alcohol to-go, and culminating in a surprise restaurant reopening launch at the end of May. That same weekend, important social justice protests and anti-police violence marches swelled through Downtown, Santa Monica, and Long Beach, leading to confusing curfews and further uncertainty. Bars and nightlife reopenings only lasted about a week, having been allowed to open mid-June, and then forced to close on Sunday.

As for further closures, Los Angeles County is now well above several thresholds that were required to be met before reopening in the first place and is setting near-daily records for cases, putting the upcoming holiday weekend into serious doubt for businesses and customers alike.