California public health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted all regional stay-at-home orders statewide today, marking the immediate return of on-site outdoor dining across Southern California — though there were more than a few questions about whether or not LA County would relax its own restrictions to follow suit. In a 2 p.m. press conference today, LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said that “Los Angeles will essentially align with the state by the end of the week” on its own public health order, specifically calling out the resumption of outdoor dining as one area of reconciliation between the two orders. Los Angeles County health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer confirmed later in the same press conference that the new local public health order would go into effect on Friday.
While formal details about the reopening are still to come, Dr. Ferrer did hint that capacity restrictions (at 50 percent) will be in place, adding that public health officials are “going to take a hard look at personal protective equipment that workers are using at restaurants” and other specifics when laying out the reopening plan. That also includes heavier enforcement, “to make sure customers are not crowded, to limit exposure to each other with this virus,” Dr. Ferrer said.
The return of on-site outdoor dining is considered by many to be a huge relief for struggling restaurants, some of which closed temporarily in a wait-and-see mode as COVID-19 cases soared and sales dwindled over the past several months; others made the unfortunate choice to close permanently. Of course, LA County is still not out of the woods, with its January 24 daily report showing 8,243 new cases, 98 deaths, and 6,697 current hospitalizations. LA County ICU capacity remains at well under 1.5 percent, and 5,000 people have died in the county in less than a month from COVID-19, reports the Los Angeles Times.
“LA County remains in the purple tier,” Dr. Ferrer said of the state’s return to the color-coded reopening tier system, “and as many of you remember, that is the most restrictive tier, because we still have a lot of community transmission.” Dr. Ferrer stressed the need to continue to stay home when possible, to social distance, avoid large gatherings, and to opt for pickup and takeout food whenever possible.
The purple tier also means that other activities are once again allowed, as outlined below.
In San Francisco, mayor London Breed announced a similar easing of local restrictions to allow limited outdoor dining. Breed’s website outlines the new reopening guidelines that allow dining “with tables of no more than two households, up to six people, and spaced a minimum of six feet apart.” Infection levels there have dropped significantly, in comparison to LA County, where infections are still dramatically high, and well above summertime levels.
Remember that this is (at least) Southern California’s second time reopening since March, 2020. Throughout the year, messaging has been chaotic at times, particularly after the announcement that restaurants could reopen on the same night the announcement was made, leaving restaurants scrambling, only to be informed weeks later of rolling curfews during spring police brutality protests.
Dr. Ferrer’s statements today did offer hope, but with caution — and a warning: “If people aren’t able to adhere to the rules,” she said, “if we have a lot of outbreaks, we’ll be in the horrible position of having to backtrack.”