Why LA County decided to stop eating al fresco

On November 22, the LA County Department of Health announced that it would suspend its outdoor, on-site meal in Los Angeles on November 25 from 10 p.m. to slow the spread of COVID-19. In recent weeks, coronavirus cases have increased by 108 percent since early November. Restaurants across the city are frustrated by the loss of outdoor meals, which has provided much-needed income and jobs for both operators and workers.

However, Dr Barbara Ferrer, health director, gave enlightening reasons why the county decided to discontinue outdoor meals for three weeks. In a call to the media today, Ferrer said the most prominent person they know is that the on-site meal puts people from different households in the same place without wearing a face mask. And because the rate of COVID-19 is higher than ever, barely more than 6,000 cases today, it is concerned that allowing such a maskless interaction will only increase the transfer rate. (Ferrer said the daily number of cases was probably higher due to delays in test reports.)

Eventually, Ferrer decides to close the on-site meal, as this will, of course, reduce the number of unmasked interactions between people in different households. “I think one of the sad realities is that we’ve never seen such a high growth rate as we just did. We know that the places where people eat are the places where transmission is easiest and most likely. ”

Given last week’s data that only 81 percent of the 726 restaurants inspected complied with the guidelines on physical distance, Ferrer expressed concern that non-compliance could result in greater exposure to those in outdoor canteens. He explained whether the low compliance rate could result in dramatic exposure for diners across the county: “Nearly 20 per cent of restaurants did not meet social distance orders. In LA County, this is more than 6,000 sites, which can easily translate to more than 300,000 people at increased risk of exposure if there are 50 people at each site. “

Last month, the health department said 10 to 15 percent of COVID-19 cases came from restaurant experience, but today Ferrer shared that this information was based on a small sample of interviews among 280,000 positive cases in LA County. Ferrer said: “Most of the people interviewed had no idea where they were exposed. We asked about the activities of the last two weeks. ”In fact, due to the 14-day incubation period of COVID-19 and the number of individuals performing positive activities in each period, even county data may not be completely accurate in 10–15% of cases from restaurants.

Seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County from April to November 2020.

Seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County from April to November 2020
LA County Department of Health

Restaurant operators cried badly when the county announced an impending outdoor meal shutdown, stating that the health department did not justify the decision based on the relatively low transmission rate in the restaurant premises. Today, the Independent Catering Coalition, which is made up of independent catering providers around LA, said the transfer rate has not increased since outdoor dining was allowed in late May and has declined over the past five months, arguing that events such as Halloween and private gatherings are the primary drivers of surge. In fact, even LA County Superintendent Kathryn Barger has come to support the restaurant industry, openly opposing the health department’s decision and saying she will support it on behalf of the ten thousand jobs that would be affected by the minimum three-week closure.

Asked why the health department could not implement other policies, such as enforcing a county mask mandate or stepping up liaison, Ferrer postponed a scheduled meeting of the board of supervisors tomorrow. With more than 4,500 cases above the Los Angeles County five-day average, the board may decide to assign Los Angeles to a “targeted,” safer home assignment. Ferrer did not provide further details, except that the restrictions do not reflect those imposed from the spring. One thing is for sure: The ban on outdoor meals seems to continue until at least December 16 and is likely to continue.