California officials halt indoor dining as coronavirus surges
California restaurants in 19 counties — including Los Angeles County — must halt indoor dine-in operations effective immediately, a measure intended to slow the aggressive resurgence of COVID-19 across the state.
The restrictions will be in place for at least three weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday. Businesses can continue serving guests in outdoor spaces or open-air patios.
The new restrictions are the latest blow to restaurant owners and employees across the state, many of whom were already struggling to keep their businesses afloat.
Newsom had previously ordered restaurants to close for in-person dining on March 15 to curb the spread of COVID-19, though officials in various counties began to lift restrictions in late May, allowing restaurants to open with limited capacity and distancing guidelines.
Some California cities, including Los Angeles, have recently enacted programs intended to increase outdoor dining by permitting restaurants to open in public spaces such as sidewalks, streets and parking lots.
Despite such policies, however, restaurants do not have equal access to open air space. For some, the investment in outdoor seating is not spatially practical or financially viable.
Gov. Gavin Newsom orders the immediate closure of bars, restaurants and other indoor facilities in 19 counties as COVID-19 cases spike.
An hour before the governor’s announcement, Wes Avila’s downtown restaurant Guerrilla Tacos had opened its dining room for the first time since the March shutdown. Co-owner Brittney Valles, 27, said the restaurant spent hours training the staff, installing protective plexiglass and stocking up on PPE to prepare for opening.
“We’ve spent like $40,000 in the last month making $1,000 a day just to open safely and to follow the rules,” she said. “But then we drive by other restaurants and see them and no one is following them.”
During a Tuesday news conference, L.A. County Department of Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said that nearly half of the restaurants visited by inspectors since the reopening were still not complying with the mandated health and safety protocols.
Although Guerrilla Tacos has a small front patio, Valles said she doesn’t think it will be worth it to serve 11 outdoor seats. Instead, she’s thinking of using the back parking lot as a dining area, or returning to takeout.
“I just don’t trust stuff to not be changing left and right again,” she said. “It’s a parking lot that serves as the landing area for cleaning supplies and catering. It would be an investment turning that into a dining area.”
In the days leading up to the latest dine-in shutdown, owners and employees had voiced concerns over inconsistent reopening procedures as well as diners who refused to comply with mask requirements and physical distancing guidelines.
Hugo’s Tacos announced Sunday it would temporarily close its locations in Atwater Village and Studio City after “constant conflicts” over guests refusing to wear masks. “Staff have been harassed, called names, and had objects and liquids thrown at them,” a statement from owner Bill Kohne read.
“Any place that reopens and expects to run things the same as before [the pandemic], it’s extremely reckless,” said Doug Rankin, chef at Bar Restaurant in Silver Lake. “We’re in a whole new reality right now and safety is the most important priority.”
Rankin plans to reopen his restaurant next week for outdoor and patio dining, arranging tables on a large adjacent parking lot that, along with the restaurant’s patio, will allow him to seat the same number of diners as his restaurant’s original capacity.
He’s one of the lucky ones, he insists. “Nobody designed their restaurants to be pandemic-proof,” he said. “If we had opened in a tiny 30-seat space with no parking, we’d been in a much worse place right now. It’s putting people in a difficult position.”
At Guerrilla Tacos, Valles said she didn’t feel that it was completely safe to reopen, but a decline in the demand for takeout forced their hand. The restaurant had originally planned to reopen on Aug. 1 at the earliest.
“So many operators rushed to open and make money as quickly as they could, rather than follow the rules so we could all stay open longer,” she said.
Floor supervisor Janine Ortiz, 25, who has worked with Avila for years, said she wasn’t surprised by the decision to close indoor dining again.
“There’s no point to opening again just for people to be disappointed again and go on unemployment again and do this whole thing over again,” she said. “It’s pretty disappointing. But I think it was 100% too soon to open.”
Francois Ghebaly, 40, was one of a handful of diners in the dining room. He works in the area and usually gets takeout, but wanted to dine in today after he saw that it was open.
“I’m lucky I got in before it shut down again,” he said. “Whatever is safest is most important, but it was nice to be able to sit down again.”
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