Los Angeles is shutting down restaurant dining and plans to adopt a new stay-at-home order as California faces record Covid-19 infections, a potential shortage of hospital beds and an expected surge in cases tied to the holidays.
LA officials announced on Sunday that the county would be prohibiting dining at restaurants for at least three weeks starting on Wednesday, and urged residents not to travel or gather in groups for Thanksgiving this week. With a record of 6,124 new cases reported on Monday in LA and an alarming increase over the last week, the county is expected to launch another lockdown, officials said on Monday.
The new restrictions, which will be discussed on Tuesday, are hitting the largest county in the US as the state experiences by far the highest level of Covid spread since the start of the pandemic.
California reported a record of more than 15,000 new Covid cases statewide on Saturday, and another 14,000 cases on Sunday. LA county has been a Covid hotspot in the state for months and now has a record surge, with a five-day average of more than 4,500 people reporting new infections each day – a number that has nearly doubled in just two weeks, the LA Times reported.
Some hospitals have warned they could run out of beds, staff and other resources as they become overrun with Covid patients, with sharp increases in hospitalizations across southern California. The state has also seen a 55% increase in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions over a two-week period. People ages 18 to 49 represent 60% of all new cases, and California logged 265,000 tests on Saturday.
The shutdown of dining at LA restaurants, which can continue to do takeout, has sparked widespread backlash and frustration in the industry, which has gotten little support from the state and federal government and has suffered through months of reduced business and changing regulations.
“There is just a great amount of sadness and anxiety and uncertainty,” said Brittney Valles, managing partner with Guerrilla Tacos in downtown LA. “If our leaders want us to stay home and buckle down, it needs to be accompanied by aid, rent relief, stimulus.”
Valles said on Monday that she would have to furlough 30 employees due to the new rules, the third time during the pandemic she has had to cut staff. Eight employees will remain on site for takeout. She said she would do everything she could to keep people employed so they do not lose health insurance, even if it means taking out personal loans.
Restaurants across the state have also invested significant resources in setting up outdoor dining, which has added to the frustration with the shutdown. Guerrilla Tacos spent roughly $27,000 to create an outdoor space and has been selling out reservations, making a slim profit, Valles said.
Valles said no Covid cases had been reported at Guerrilla Tacos and that the precautions seemed to be working. She feared that shutting down outdoor dining could lead people to gather more frequently in private homes, causing further Covid spread.
“It really feels like the hospitality industry has become an easy scapegoat,” she said, adding that she was anxious about her long-term viability. “What am I going to do if I have to close my restaurant? It’s my life. It’s everything I’ve worked for and sacrificed for. It’s like my child is dying and I can’t do anything about it.”
Other LA restaurant owners said they were worried this shutdown would force them to permanently close. “It’s an impossible game that doesn’t make any sense, and it seems like nobody cares about us,” Christy Vega Fowler, owner of the Mexican restaurant Casa Vega, told the LA Times.
Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles public health director, said the “persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks”, adding: “We hope individuals continue to support restaurants, breweries and wineries by ordering for takeout or delivery.”
LA has warned that it might have to adopt even stricter lockdown measures if cases continue to rise. The new rules come as California implements a curfew for most of the state, requiring people to stay home from 10pm to 5am, with some exceptions, including grocery shopping, essential work and walking dogs. The curfew has required restaurants and bars to close at night, and in San Francisco, there is growing concern that rising Covid rates could lead to more restrictions.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Sunday that he and his family were under quarantine after three of his children were exposed to someone with Covid. The family tested negative on Sunday but would remain isolated, he said.
Some conservative parts of the state, including Huntington Beach, south of LA, have protested against Newsom’s restrictions, with some urging him to “open California” at a rally after curfew rules went into effect Saturday night.
Newsom recently faced scrutiny after photos emerged of him dining out with other families at French Laundry, one of California’s most expensive and upscale restaurants.
Agencies contributed reporting