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Limited Indoor Dining Can Return to Orange County Today, Says California Gov. Newsom

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The state’s new coronavirus reopening guidelines mean Orange County can do 25 percent indoor dining, beginning immediately

Diners sit at Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach in May 2020, when Orange County restaurants were initially allowed to reopen at reduced capacity for indoor dining.
Diners sit at Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach in May 2020, when Orange County restaurants were initially allowed to reopen at reduced capacity for indoor dining
Wonho Frank Lee

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has just announced plans for the immediate resumption of indoor dining for Orange County, albeit in a limited capacity of 25 percent.

The news was delivered at a press conference just moments ago, with California Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announcing that five new counties could move into limited indoor dining. Newsom said that his office is “monitoring” another seven counties to potentially reopen indoor dining in the coming weeks as well.

Today’s indoor dining announcement is part of California’s “new, simplified” color-coded reopening schedule, said Newsom, which removes local guidance and puts the power of business reopening (including restaurants but also breweries, wineries, distilleries, malls, gyms, hair salons, and more) during the ongoing pandemic squarely in the hands of the governor’s office up in Sacramento. Indoor dining was previously closed to restaurants statewide back on July 13; in Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people and to the state’s highest concentration of COVID-19 cases, the closure has been in effect since July 1.

Each of California’s 58 counties are now divided into various shaded tiers, which range from a “widespread” chance of community COVID-19 transmission to “minimal,” with more allowances made the further each county falls down the tiers. Moving through each tier means hitting certain data benchmarks, like reduced testing positivity rates, and counties in each color must remain in their new tier for at least three weeks.

Here are the tiers again:

  • Tier 1/purple/widespread means outdoor dining only
  • Tier 2/red/substantial means limited indoor dining at 25 percent of capacity (based on certificate of occupancy) or 100 diners, whichever is fewer
  • Tier 3/orange/moderate means limited indoor dining at 50 percent of capacity (based on certificate of occupancy) or 200 diners, whichever is fewer
  • Tier 4/yellow/minimal means limited indoor dining at 50 percent of capacity (based on certificate of occupancy)

By being announced as part of the red tier, Orange County can once again reopen for limited indoor dining at 25 percent of total capacity, based on their certificate of occupancy, or 100 diners in total, whichever is fewer. San Francisco, which is both a county and a city, was granted red tier status back at the end of August (along with San Diego County and other more rural counties in Northern California) when the new color-coded system was first announced, but public health officials in SF say they will not reopen yet. Statewide guidance under the new rules dictates that while the governor’s office does have final say, “in any instance where there are differences between state and county requirements, the stricter requirement is the one that must be followed.”

While the resumption of indoor dining is likely good news for most restaurant operators, there are still few good long-term answers to survival during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants operate on historically thin margins, making limited seating and takeout-only models hard to square with high rents and other fixed operating costs. Without federal intervention, it’s likely that many, many more restaurants will continue to close in Los Angeles County and across Southern California, as well as the rest of the nation.

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