December 3, 2020

Op-Ed: Dining Ban is Bad Policy

Op-Ed By Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger

Since it was announced this weekend, our phones have not stopped ringing with calls and texts from people opposing the ban on outdoor dining at restaurants that takes effect today. So many of the shutdowns during this pandemic have been devastating to industries but this one has generated such a backlash because it feels like a betrayal.

Restaurants had already been hit hard by COVID-19. When they were finally allowed to re-open, they invested what little they had left into the infrastructure for outdoor dining — following the guidance set by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health itself. The Department of Public Health has also consistently noted the high level of compliance in protecting both patrons and employees at businesses at 95%.

The proposed policy to arbitrarily close outdoor dining abandons our restaurant workers who will be laid off right before the holidays. Without a new Federal stimulus package, the County will not be able to get them the support they need.

This policy is in response to a new surge in COVID-19 cases in LA County and across the state. We have seen massive numbers of new cases and hospitalizations continue to increase. The situation is dire and we do need to act, but we worry that this policy will do much more harm than good.

We were not presented with any data that proved that this surge is driven by outdoor dining. In fact, we have been told for weeks by our public health experts that our businesses are not the problem and that private gatherings and parties are driving the bulk of new cases.

Contact tracing is a messy science and on a scale this size, it is hard to tell with any certainty where people are really contracting this virus. But we know that indoor gatherings are much more dangerous than outdoor ones. And by eliminating the option for residents to gather at outdoor dining establishments that follow strict public health protocols, we will only drive people to socialize more at home.

On Tuesday we authored a motion that would have permitted outdoor dining to continue operating at 50% capacity and adherence to the new 10:00 pm curfew. Unfortunately we could not convince our colleagues to agree with us. The consequences of that decision will be devastating to thousands of businesses and workers during this already hard holiday season.

We have asked that the County allocate $10 million in our CARES Act funding to provide grants to restaurants, breweries and wineries. We will also continue to fight this seemingly baseless restriction while we pursue those safety measures that will truly have an impact on slowing the spread of COVID-19.

We need everyone to stop gathering with friends and family over these next few weeks, especially indoors. This situation is serious. Our healthcare employees, our workers, and businesses are depending on us turning this around.

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