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L.A. County will ask state to allow restaurants, other businesses to reopen sooner

L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, at right, with Supervisor Janice Hahn, said the county was progressing in its coronavirus fight and would ask the state for to allow it to advance farther into Gov. Gavin Newsom's phased reopening plan.
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, right, with Supervisor Janice Hahn, said the county was progressing in its coronavirus fight.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County officials said Tuesday they will ask the state to allow a speedier reopening of restaurants in the county offering in-person dining and other businesses shuttered by the coronavirus outbreak.

After meeting in closed session, members of the Board of Supervisors said the county would submit a “variance” application to the state on Wednesday. If approved, it would allow L.A. County to advance further into Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan for reopening the state.

For a variance plan to be approved, a county must prove it has met the state public health department’s criteria for containing COVID-19.

That includes having no more than 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations on any single day in the past 14 days, and fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days, or less than 8% testing positive in the past seven days. It also means a county must have sufficient contact tracing and testing available for at least 75% of residents.

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Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in an interview that during the closed session Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, provided supervisors with new data showing that L.A. County has met those thresholds.

At least two supervisors had initially opposed seeking a variance, Barger said, but when Ferrer presented the new data, “that solved the problem right there.”

If approved, the county could allow some in-person dining in restaurants, Barger said. Restaurant owners hope to be allowed to seat more patrons outside because many say they cannot survive with overly stringent rules limiting capacity, Barger said.

Additionally, if the variance plan is approved, barbershops and hair salons would be allowed to reopen in some capacity, as outlined by state health guidelines, but not nail salons.

L.A. County will also align its public-health order with the state’s order. Previously, the county’s order was more stringent than the state’s, which caused confusion among residents, Barger said.

An updated county health order will allow community pools, drive-in theaters and flea markets to reopen because they are already allowed to operate under state rules, Barger said.

Additionally, faith-based organizations can resume services, with the number of congregants limited to less than 25% of the building’s capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower.

All retail, including businesses located inside malls and at outdoor retail shopping centers, can open for business at 50% capacity.

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Gatherings of people not from the same household are still prohibited, except for faith-based services and in-person protests.

If approved, the variance plan might be implemented differently within the city of L.A., as the city could choose to implement stricter rules than the county’s health order if Mayor Eric Garcetti felt it was unsafe for L.A. to reopen as much as other parts of the county, Barger said.

As of Tuesday, the state had approved COVID-19 variance plans for 47 counties to reopen dine-in restaurants, outdoor museums, shopping centers, in-store retail and office-based workplaces.

Barger said the state approved Ventura County’s variance plan in about 48 hours, and expressed hope that Gov. Gavin Newsom would be similarly supportive of L.A.'s bid.

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There is “a sense of frustration because the numbers are going down, and people are getting frustrated because there’s no movement in letting them get back to their jobs,” Barger said. “I hope by doing this, people will recognize the ability to move forward is based off what we have done for the last three weeks.”

In a statement, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl urged residents to continue wearing face coverings, practice social distancing and frequently wash their hands.

Otherwise, “we will not be able to meet our goal of reopening as fully as possible as quickly as possible,” Kuehl said.


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