Why must TVs remain off at L.A. County restaurants? Yelling, screaming can spread coronavirus, officials say

Couple eat outside as restaurant several feet from another table of people.
“This is our first time out in the real world,” said Adrian Ramirez, 29, while eating with friend Bobby Aksagul, 29, at Mel’s Drive-In Diner in Sherman Oaks on Friday. “The waitress said that we were her first outdoor customers,” Ramirez said.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

It’s a ritual of dining out to look out for the big screen televisions to keep updated on the Lakers score or monitor the NFL or soccer, even if your occasion is celebrating Mom’s birthday or closing a business deal.

But with Los Angeles County’s new rules for outdoor dining, which took effect Friday, TVs must remain off.

It’s one of several new regulations imposed as the county allowed eateries to have outdoor dining again after a devastating winter surge in COVID-19 cases.


Under new county rules, outdoor dining and wine service seating must be limited to 50% capacity, with tables positioned at least eight feet apart.

Outdoor seating also will be limited to no more than six people per table — and everyone sitting together must be from the same household, the health order mandates.

But perhaps the most noticeable of the rules is a ban on watching TV during outdoor dining.

Officials said this is a precaution designed to make eating in outdoor restaurants as safe as possible — especially with the Super Bowl coming up.

“We really do need to be cautious as we move forward, given we have a major sporting event” coming up, and it’s not uncommon for people to be “yelling, shouting, screaming during the excitement of a game,” said L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis.

“There is no such thing as no risk at a restaurant or any other setting where people from different households are together,” he added during a briefing Friday.


Officials believe that COVID-19 spread at gatherings after the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series and the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship this fall.

“It will be tragic if the Super Bowl becomes a super-spreader of coronavirus,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week.

Sports fans should “play it safe,” Ferrer said. “Don’t organize a party at home. Don’t go to a Super Bowl party.”

Should conditions improve, Davis said the county will consider changes to its rules as warranted.

“Right now, we have to ease into these reopenings,” he said. “We want to see these cases continue to come down, our hospitalizations continue to come down. Our healthcare workers have been doing a great job ... they are tired.”

Officials continue to urge diners to wear masks when not eating or drinking and to practice social distancing. Both diners and employees should maintain strong personal hand hygiene.


“The gradual reopening of the economy is very important. But we need to rely on everyone making community-focused decisions for how we conduct ourselves when outside of our homes,” L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said earlier this week. “Please wear a mask. Please limit and be careful when interacting with those outside of your household.”

On Friday night, people flocked back to restaurants around L.A., and the no-TV rule seemed not to get much notice.

Wes Liu wanted to spend his money supporting Chinatown, if and when restaurants could operate again “normally.”

He took a step toward his goal Friday after work, when he headed to Pearl River Deli on North Broadway for its tender Hainan chicken and popular char siu plate. He intended to take it to a community park to eat while tuning in to a Zoom meeting on his phone. The Echo Park man just felt a need to dine outdoors.

“It’s not the same sitting on the front porch or a small back patio,” said Liu, who runs a small gift shop. “This neighborhood has been hardest hit not just by the terrible economy, but the anti-Asian backlash associated with the virus. So unfair, you know. We need to join together to keep restaurants alive and keep respect to cultures.”