Los Angeles Health Officials Unable to Provide Data to Support Outdoor Dining Ban

By Zachary Stieber

Los Angeles County public health officials on Tuesday said they don’t have data to support a weekslong ban on outdoor dining, triggering pushback from supervisors.

Health officials said they believe outdoor eating at restaurants is a place with a high risk of transmission of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.

Dr. Muntu Davis, the county’s public health officer, told the county Board of Supervisors that the best data officials have is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency in September published a case control probe that found a link between COVID-19 cases and going to locations that offer on-site eating and drinking options.

But that report did not distinguish between outdoor and indoor dining and Davis admitted officials don’t have information about restaurant patrons contracting COVID-19.

Health officials announced over the weekend that they planned to bar restaurants from offering outdoor seating for three weeks. Tuesday’s meeting was the first time they expanded on the order to supervisors.

“You are solving the problem of people mixing together, oftentimes from different households, being in close contact without a face covering while they are eating or drinking,” Davis told them.

The shortage in hard data frustrated the board, which said they’d received hundreds of public comments, primarily negative, about the ban.

“The public doesn’t think that that recommendation is right, and they don’t think it’s going to work, and they really are losing faith and trust in the decisions that we’re making,” Janice Hahn, one of the supervisors, said.

“To close restaurants down at this point is, without money to pay these workers, to pay these restaurants—I think we are careening down another economically tragic road. Closing, reopening, modifying, reopening again. And our cases are still going up.”

Employees work in a restaurant open for to-go or delivery orders only, in Burbank, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2020. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Kathryn Barger, the board chair, added: “After hearing Dr. Davis say that the evidence being used is the CDC study, and it’s the best info we have—after seven months, we have not been tracking that info—actually reaffirms how upset I am about the fact that I feel this is arbitrary and punitive toward outdoor dining at restaurants.”

No other county has closed outdoor dining, Barger added, and the closure of outdoor gathering places will likely lead to more indoor private gatherings. She and Hahn warned against job losses.

Barger, the board’s sole Republican, and Hahn eventually voted against approving the order, but were outvoted by the other three supervisors.

Hilda Solis, one of those supervisors, said in a statement that she is “keenly aware that suspending outdoor dining will have a detrimental impact on our small businesses.”

“But I’ve said time and time again that I will listen to our public health experts—and their recommendation is clear,” she added. “None of us want to see this closure, but it is necessary to protect our collective well-being.”

The county’s order prompted the city of Pasadena to clarify it would not follow the new rules.

“The city of Pasadena will allow restaurants to remain open for outside dining with guidelines in place and continue to assess its COVID numbers, work closely with Huntington Hospital, and give as much advance notice as possible if the city’s order is going to change in any respect,” city officials said in a statement.

“We need to balance our growing numbers and the economic hardship of restaurant personnel. Behind every employee is a family and in many cases they are the sole providers. We want to gain compliance through education so we’ll continue to work with the restaurateurs, although it’s imperative everyone follows the rules to slow this surge otherwise a state directive could supersede our local orders.”

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