After a two-month shutdown due to surging COVID-19 cases, patio dining returned to Los Angeles County Friday but with a new restriction forcing restaurants to turn off or remove all televisions from customer seating areas — a clear effort to prevent gatherings of sports fans.
The county’s revised Health Officer Order also reinstates previous restrictions on outdoor dining, requiring servers to wear masks and face shields, limiting restaurants to 50% of patio capacity, limiting tables to no more than six people and requiring tables to be at least eight feet apart.
But the order also states: “Televisions or any other screens that are used to broadcast programming must be removed from the area or turned off. This provision is effective until further notice.”
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer earlier this week noted concerns about the upcoming Super Bowl leading to gatherings of sports fans, and she noted earlier issued with people gathering at private parties and restaurants to watch Dodger World Series and Lakers NBA Championship games.
“We know that Super Bowl Sunday is coming up, and we can’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” Ferrer said. “It will be tragic if the Super Bowl becomes a super-spreader of coronavirus.”
The order limits table seating to six people, and “all people seated at a table should be members of the same household.”
The order encourages, but does not mandate, seating to be done by advance reservation. It urges restaurants to notify customers “to call in advance to confirm outdoor seating/serving capacity, where possible.” Restaurants also must collect contact information from customers in case there’s a future need to reach out in contact-tracing efforts.
The new Health Officer Order also lifts the previous requirement that non-essential retail businesses be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
On Monday, following the lifting of the state’s regional stay-at-home order, the county immediately cleared personal-service businesses such as barber shops and nail salons to reopen, albeit with strict infection-control requirements.
Restaurants reopened for outdoor service earlier this week in Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.
Daily COVID-19 infection numbers have been trending downward over the past two weeks, following a surge that saw the county regularly reporting well over 10,000 cases.
On Thursday, the Department of Public Health announced another 6,592 new COVID infections, while Long Beach added 414 and Pasadena 56, increasing the overall number since the pandemic began to 1,098,411.
Hospitalization numbers also continued a downward trend. According to state figures, there were 5,855 people hospitalized due to COVID in the county as of Thursday, including 1,503 in intensive care. That marks a dramatic drop from the 8,000-plus patients reported earlier in January.
However, the county also reported another 213 deaths on Thursday, though 18 of those fatalities were actually announced Wednesday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena. Long Beach added 15 more deaths Thursday afternoon, while Pasadena reported five more.
The new deaths pushed the overall death toll to 16,127 as the region experiences the inevitable end result of a surge in infections that continues to fill hospital intensive-care units.
Health officials have warned that daily deaths will likely remain high for the rest of the month, even as case numbers and hospital admissions continue to fall. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning they naturally follow increases in hospitalizations, and early January saw daily hospital populations top 8,000.
While the case numbers have improved, they still remain dramatically high. Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, noted this week that while new COVID hospital admissions have dropped to about 500 per day from the recent high of about 700 per day, the current rate is still double that seen in the virus surge that occurred last summer.
Ferrer on Thursday reiterated her call for residents and business owners to strictly adhere to all infection-control measures, particularly as more businesses open and more people interact in public.
“To continue to drive down transmission, we all must commit to taking the actions that work to slow COVID-19 spread,” Ferrer said in a statement. “When more sectors re-open the risk of COVID-19 transmission increases, because people are interacting more with non-household members. In order to avoid re-openings resulting in increases in cases, businesses and individuals need to be more diligent, not less, in following public health measures.
“We have a way to go before our hospitals are not stressed and fewer people die each day. Staying on a recovery journey is only possible if we all play by the rules,” she said.
The county’s COVID-19 transmission rate — reflecting the average number of people a COVID patient infects with the virus — also continues to decline, estimated Wednesday at 0.85, down from 0.94 last week. Keeping that number below 1.0 is considered critical to slowing the spread of the virus.
Ferrer said allocations of COVID-19 vaccine continue to lag behind demand, with the county expecting to receive roughly 188,000 doses next week. Many of those, however, will be needed to administer second shots to people who have already received the first dose of the two-dose regimen.
As of the end of last week, the county had received a total of 853,650 doses. It received an estimated 143,900 doses this week, pushing the total to nearly 1 million.
Vaccination appointments can be booked online at vaccinatelacounty.com or by calling 833-530-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., but appointments at county sites are largely filled through the weekend.