County orders restaurants, bars to stop all outdoor dining as average daily cases pass 4,000

Starting Wednesday night, restaurants, bars and other eateries in Los Angeles County and Long Beach will not be allowed to offer any on-site dining—even outdoors—health officials said today as they try to stem an “alarming” rate of coronavirus infections.

“To reduce the possibility for crowding and the potential for exposures in settings where people are not wearing their face coverings, restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars will only be able to offer take-out, drive thru, and delivery services,” the LA County public health department said in a statement Sunday afternoon.

The restrictions will start at 10 p.m. Wednesday and be in place for at least three weeks.

Long Beach officials said they will institute the same restrictions. The city can chart its own course because it has its own health department, but it has almost always followed the county’s lead, sometimes with minor differences in the rules.

LA County announced the new restrictions in a statement where they also said they region had recorded 2,718 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday. That pushed the five-day average of cases to 4,097. County health officials had repeatedly warned they would restrict dine-in options if that average pushed above 4,000 per day. If it surpasses 4,500, they threatened the return of a full stay-at-home order restricting all nonessential activity.

Twice last week, the county reported more than 4,500 new cases, peaking on Thursday with a record-breaking 5,031 infections.

Long Beach has not escaped the boom in infections. In the last month, the rate of daily new cases in Long Beach has more than doubled. On Oct. 21, the city recorded a rate of 7.9 people per 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus. As of Saturday, Nov. 21, that rate had spiked to 20 daily new infections per 100,000 residents—a number that is literally off the charts in the city’s online data dashboard.

A screenshot from the city of Long Beach’s data dashboard.

In a statement sent Sunday evening, Long Beach Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said the city’s number of new cases has increased 120% over the past two weeks and local hospitalizations have tripled since Nov. 1.

“These increases are occurring dramatically faster than the first surge experienced during the height of the summer when we were seeing hundreds of new cases daily, overwhelming our ability to appropriately contact trace and threatening hospital capacity,” she said. “With the upcoming holidays, officials are concerned that these numbers will continue to surge, similarly impacting hospitalization capacity.”

Just how quickly the spread has accelerated is part of what’s alarmed health officials.

“COVID can go from 0 to 60 very quickly and it has,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services Secretary, said after the state announced it was instituting overnight curfews for nonessential activity. He explained the coronavirus was spread as fast as it ever had in California.

The curfew, which applies to Los Angeles, Orange and 39 other counties seeing widespread outbreaks of the virus, went into effect Nov. 21 and will continue through Dec. 21. The restriction requires people not performing essential business to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5. People are still allowed to run essential errands like shopping for groceries, picking up food or medication, and even walking their dogs.

The curfew also bans any gatherings after 10 p.m. In LA County, those gatherings are also limited to 15 people from no more than three households, and they’re required to be outside and physically distanced.

With people already fatigued from the months of coronavirus restrictions that have been in place, officials are pleading with residents to keep their guard up.

“Unfortunately we have seen case numbers go up locally regionally and across the state. Which is very concerning,  and it’s going to take continued vigilance to slow the spread of this virus,” Long Beach city spokesman Kevin Lee said. “It sounds like a broken record to say this, but we need to continue to remind people of the basic things they can and should do to turn the case numbers back around, and that is to keep your distance, wear your mask and wash your hands.”

LA County also reported nine new fatal cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the countywide death toll to 7,438. Of those, 270 were Long Beach residents.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Sunday night with more information from the city of Long Beach, including that it will institute the same dine-in ban.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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