2 LA Supervisors blast outdoor dining ban as health officials warn of overwhelming hospitals

Anger over a new health order closing dine-in service at restaurants in Los Angeles County spilled into public view Tuesday as two county leaders said they don’t support the measure.

The Board of Supervisors met for the first time Tuesday since the public health department announced Sunday that they would issue a new order suspending in-person dining now that new COVID-19 cases averaged 4,000 per day over five days.

Two supervisors—Chairwoman Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, who represents Long Beach—said they don’t support the move to close dine-in service, saying there’s no evidence that the recent rise in cases has been caused by restaurants.

A formal motion seeking to overturn the health order and keep restaurants open at least an additional two weeks was voted down 3-2 on Tuesday.

The new restrictions are “arbitrary” and “come the day before a major holiday when many restaurants have already purchased supplies and food,” Barger said.

The supervisors asked to hear about the order—as well as new restrictions proposed after the county reached an average of 4,500 daily cases on Monday—after receiving intense pushback from constituents.

Hahn said she had never received the kind of reaction she got when news broke of the restaurant decision. The board also received 7,700 comments on the agenda item alone.

Separately, the California Restaurant Association has filed a suit attempting to overturn the order, the Los Angeles City Council voted 11-3 in favor of asking the county to reconsider the order on restaurants, and chambers of commerce, business associations and others have mobilized across the county in opposition.

But officials say the rise in cases is serious enough to warrant the change, which goes into effect at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

The county reported a record-breaking 6,124 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, a staggering number that shattered the previous high of 5,031 reported Thursday. The virus is spreading faster locally than ever before.

Health officials in particular called attention to hospitalizations, and the “very real possibility” that the county could overwhelm its health systems. Hospitalizations, they said, could reach 2,200—roughly 600 more than Tuesday—in the next few weeks.

They said restaurants pose a risk because patrons aren’t required to wear face coverings, and dining out tends to encourage socializing with people outside one’s household. Although it’s difficult to determine the exact cause of the rise in cases, a September study from the Centers for Disease Control showed cases were two times more likely in those who dined out in a restaurant.

State health officials agreed that dining should always be a concern when looking to control the virus.

“Outdoor dining—because it often happens with no mask, often bringing together people who maybe haven’t seen each other in a while in close quarters—becomes concerning for spread,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a briefing that happened almost simultaneously with the LA Supervisors meeting. “It is not the only area where I would be concerned, but I think that it is an important place to constantly look.”

He said it was “absolutely prudent” for Los Angeles’s health officials and elected leaders to consider a modified stay-at-home order to safeguard its healthcare system.

Hahn also acknowledged that the county board did discuss and agree to the new restrictions at a meeting last week, but that she did not think it would happen so fast.

“We thought we would be weeks away,” she said.

She said could not support penalizing a single sector when there’s little evidence showing this has led to the cause.

“I hope we can have some compassion and sympathy a few weeks before the end of the year to continue to allow for outdoor dining,” she said, adding that she’d like to see more enforcement on the “bad actors” out there.

Other supervisors said they don’t want to see restaurants or any businesses suffer, but that they support the health department’s aggressive measures given the perilous situation faced by the county.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said she hoped that leaders and health officials could be united in their messaging to the public and looked into using federal CARES Act funding to support businesses.

She said she received a text recently from Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia saying he hoped she would “do the right thing” and support the three-week ban on dine-in service. Long Beach has also issued its own order instituting the ban.

Staff writer Jeremiah Dobruck contributed to this report.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.