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LA Eyes Less Restrictive Orange Tier in April, Which Means More Indoor Dining Capacity

If trends continue, it could mean 50 percent indoor dining capacity and the reopening of bars that don’t serve food

Daily Life In Los Angeles Around The One-Year Anniversary Of The COVID-19 Shut Down
Outdoor dining in Los Angeles recently
Photo by Michael Tullberg/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.

Los Angeles County and surrounding areas could soon move into the orange tier, the next less-restrictive reopening tier as set forth by state officials during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The move would mean an even broader reopening for small businesses, particularly restaurants and bars — and it could happen in just a matter of weeks, if COVID-19 cases continue to fall at their current rates.

Currently Los Angeles and most surrounding counties are in the red tier, down from the most-restrictive purple tier, though they have been tantalizingly close to meeting the threshold for orange tier status for more than a week now. To move between tiers, counties must hold at or below the threshold for that new tier for at least two weeks, and must stay in a new tier for at least three weeks. Los Angeles County formally entered the red tier on March 15, and — if it meets the data requirements today for the orange tier — could see a more broad reopening by mid-April.

Here’s what would be allowed under orange tier:

  • Restaurants can increase indoor dining capacity to 50 percent, or 200 total diners, whichever is fewer. Numbers must factor in continued table distancing and other coronavirus protocols like mask-wearing whenever possible.
  • Outdoor dining at current occupancy levels (50 percent) remains in place.
  • Breweries, distilleries, and wineries that serve food can increase indoor dining capacity to 50 percent, or 200 total diners, whichever is fewer.
  • Breweries, distilleries, and wineries that do not serve food can offer indoor drinking at 25 percent capacity, and can continue to offer drinks (by reservation, and with time caps) outdoors.
  • Bars that do not serve food and have not partnered with a licensed food vendor can open for outdoor drinking only.
  • California’s multi-tiered, multi-colored reopening plan, dubbed the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, establishes coronavirus-related data benchmarks for moving between lesser and more restrictive reopenings. They include data points like test positivity rate, adjusted case rate totals per 100,000 residents, and health equity metrics. The state also tracks vaccination rates in hard-hit areas, adjusting those metrics as more doses are administered.

Currently the county’s red tier allows for limited-capacity indoor dining at 25 percent (or 100 diners, whichever is fewer) and the continuation of outdoor dining. Just this week, county officials also brought distilleries, breweries, and wineries in line with state guidance to allow limited-capacity indoor dining along with served meals, or outdoor seating for those spaces that do not serve food. As always, county public health officials are allowed to enact more (not less) restrictive reopening requirements, beyond the state guidance.

Any move to orange tier would bring with it wider reopening standards for restaurants. All of the usual COVID-19 related protocols, from personal protective equipment use by staff to the distancing of tables, must also remain in place. Currently, televisions at sports bars and restaurants are also to remain off under current guidance; it’s unclear if that would change this month.

What’s more, a move into orange tier would allow bars (not just distilleries, breweries, wineries) to reopen without the need to serve food, albeit in an outdoor-only capacity. A majority of the county’s bars and nightlife venues have been closed for more than a year, with little additional financial assistance outside of those federal avenues like PPP loans given to restaurants as well. The enduring closures have had a severe impact on LA’s many small, independently-owned bars, and has led many longtime bartenders and nightlife workers to find other work or leave the scene entirely, even as other hospitality spaces like restaurants, breweries, and bars within restaurants have been allowed to operate takeout and some on-site dining over the past 12 months.

LA County’s weekly data updates are expected to come shortly, which should provide more clarity on any possible orange tier reopening this month. Given the falling cases around the county — and increasing vaccination efforts — it’s likely that LA, Orange County, and others could be there in just two weeks’ time. The shift would mean a mad dash to add staff and dust off unused liquor bottles at local bars from Long Beach to the Antelope Valley, once approval is handed down by state and county public health officials.