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L.A. County to shutter indoor dining at restaurants amid coronavirus spike

A couple dines at Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles.
Servers Alex Avila and Joshua Hernandez drop off food at Faith & Flower’s “landing zone” in June.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered the immediate closure of indoor operations at restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms, movie theaters, zoos, museums and card rooms in 19 counties — including Los Angeles County — that California officials have been monitoring for increases in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

“The bottom line is that the spread of this virus continues at a rate that is particularly concerning,” Newsom said, noting that closures will last for at least three weeks.

In L.A. County, where officials Wednesday announced 35 additional coronavirus-related deaths and more than 2,000 new cases for the fourth day in a row, officials said that staff and customers at fitness facilities will be required to wear cloth face coverings and gloves at all times.

The mandate follows L.A. County officials’ announcement Monday that 49% of bars and 33% of restaurants in the county were not adhering to social distancing protocols in the last week. Additionally, inspectors found that workers at 54% of bars and 44% of restaurants were not wearing face masks or shields.

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Health officials said that on June 20 — one day after L.A. County gave the green light for bars, breweries, wineries and similar businesses to reopen — more than 500,000 people visited the county’s newly reopened nightlife spots.

Officials had previously said that of 3,571 restaurants that had been visited over three consecutive weekends from May 30 to June 13, 83% were not in full compliance with coronavirus safety rules.

There are more than 40,000 restaurants in L.A. County, and the county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, said officials are trying to inspect every one of them, starting with those that have had past citations. But the order of inspection is fairly random, she said.

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In his Wednesday evening media briefing, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti encouraged restaurant owners to work with officials to secure outdoor dining permits using the L.A. Al Fresco program.

“This is a painful decision, especially for our restaurateurs,” he said of Newsom’s order. “I hope our residents will continue to support our city’s wonderful restaurants. You just cannot eat inside for this at least three-week period.”

Garcetti said about 560 restaurants so far have received permits to serve on sidewalks, parking lots or streets.

“This spike in infections and in hospitalizations is serious,” he said. “I know we’re exhausted. I know that we let down our guard. I know some of us think that we’re invincible. But this disease reminds us that we are not.”

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In light of the case surge, Garcetti introduced a new color-coded system to signal the level of danger due to the coronavirus: green, yellow, orange and red.

We’re in the “orange” category, Garcetti said, which indicates a high risk and requires residents to leave home only for essential activities.

If the city reaches the “red” category, there could be another stay-at-home mandate, Garcetti said.

The latest closures were ordered after California broke a record for new daily coronavirus infections — 8,610 cases, according to The Times’ tracker — for the second consecutive day.

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It was the second time the state has recorded more than 8,000 cases in a single day, another troubling sign that COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly in communities across the state.

The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive in California continues to rise — hitting 5.95% Tuesday, a Los Angeles Times analysis found, up from 5.28% a week earlier and 4.45% a week before that. That’s another indication that the virus’ spread is worsening.

In L.A. County, officials said 1,889 individuals are hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest number the county has reported since early May. Officials said that the demographic for hospitalizations has recently started to shift toward younger residents, who now account for the bulk of cases in the state. Further details about individuals’ ages or health conditions were not immediately provided.

As of Wednesday, there were no available appointments at county- or city-run test sites. Officials had warned Monday that testing would be limited this week due to the upcoming holiday weekend, but in recent weeks, getting a test has already proved to be a challenge. Last week, appointment slots filled up amid officials’ ongoing calls for residents to get tested.

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Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of health services, said Wednesday that the demand for testing has increased and that more slots would be added Friday. The county plans to expand testing to areas most impacted by the virus, and Ghaly said individuals who have symptoms, work in high-risk settings or have come into contact with someone known to be positive are most in need of testing.

If someone experiencing any of those factors cannot get tested through the county- or city-run sites, Ghaly encouraged them not to wait and to instead contact their medical provider.

“This is a time for universal caution,” she said.

The rate of positive infections in the county has increased to 9%, which does not meet the state’s positivity rate threshold of 8% or less for continued reopening of businesses. As several clusters of cases have been linked to gatherings, officials have encouraged people not to congregate in crowded or confined settings, and resists mixing households over the holiday weekend.

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Despite the fact that people are defying the county order and gathering, Ferrer said there are no immediate plans to offer guidance for how people should safely gather, as has been done in some Northern California communities. That said, Ferrer said that county officials are preparing guidance documents for when the time comes that people can safely mix again. But at this point, officials are focusing on the need for people to minimize exposure.

“Unfortunately, our numbers at this point in time warrant us not to get into expanded bubbles,” Ferrer said. “I would really encourage people to get back in your household bubble — we’re really at a pivotal point.”

Earlier Wednesday, Newsom said that in the course of this pandemic, there has never been a “more vulnerable” time for people with preexisting health conditions as there is now.

The state is monitoring 19 counties for surges in cases and hospitalizations: Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Merced, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Solano, Stanislaus, Tulare and Ventura.

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At a news conference Tuesday, Newsom said four more counties were likely to be added to the watch list, but he did not name them.

Monday brought L.A.'s highest single-day tally to date — 2,903 — which pushed the county past 100,000 infections.

“The L.A. County community needs to come together again to slow the spread of COVID-19, and we need to act with haste and urgency,” Ferrer said in a statement.

Orange County set its own daily record Tuesday, with 779 new confirmed coronavirus cases. The county now has nearly 14,000 cases and 340 deaths.

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On the same day, California as a whole hit a grim milestone when it exceeded 6,000 deaths. That is still far fewer than other coronavirus hot spots, such as New York and New Jersey, but the increase in overall case numbers and the stress on hospitals are raising alarms.

The enormous surge in California cases, to more than 223,900, prompted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to order that anyone traveling to his state from California — and 15 other states that have seen recent surges — to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Newsom on Tuesday compared pending new restrictions to dialing back a dimmer switch, saying, “If you’re not going to stay home, and you’re not going to wear masks in public, we have to enforce, and we will.”

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On Tuesday, Ventura County joined Los Angeles County in closing beaches during the holiday.

In Orange County, Laguna Beach City Council members voted to close city beaches, Huntington Beach officials opted to keep them open and Newport Beach officials are still mulling plans.


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