L.A. outdoor dining reopens today: What you need to know – Los Angeles Times

After a nearly two-month suspension, outdoor dining will be allowed in Los Angeles County beginning Friday.

Officials agreed to allow restaurants to resume outdoor service in light of promising news on the COVID-19 front: Case counts have been falling significantly in recent weeks, along with hospitalizations.

Recent progress prompted the state of California to rescind its regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders earlier this week, including the one that covered Southern California, clearing the way for the most significant reopenings hard-hit L.A. County has seen in weeks.

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What does this mean?

Restaurants, wineries and breweries that serve meals are allowed to again offer outdoor dining under a new health order issued Friday. Additionally, nonessential businesses that had been ordered to close nightly from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be able to reopen during those hours.

This is a boon for struggling restaurants, which are still not allowed to offer indoor service. During the suspension, they could offer only delivery and takeout, while the special outdoor seating areas many had constructed sat empty. Restaurants have been hit hard by COVID-19 closures, and many have folded.

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How do you stay safe?

Officials continue to urge diners to wear masks when not eating or drinking and to practice social distancing. Both diners and employees should maintain strong personal hand hygiene.

“The gradual reopening of the economy is very important. But we need to rely on everyone making community-focused decisions for how we conduct ourselves when outside of our homes,” L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said earlier this week. “Please wear a mask. Please limit and be careful when interacting with those outside of your household.”

Under new county rules, outdoor dining and wine service seating must be limited to 50% capacity, with tables positioned at least eight feet apart.

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Outdoor seating also will be limited to no more than six people per table — and everyone sitting together must be from the same household, the health order mandates.

In a nod to concerns surrounding the Super Bowl and other sporting events that could keep audiences around for extended periods, the order also stipulates that “televisions or other screens that broadcast programming must remain off until further notice.”

The California Department of Public Health has also offered these recommendations to restaurant operators:

  • Ensure adequate ventilation in all spaces.
  • Physically distance to the maximum extent possible.
  • Require use of face coverings by workers (where respiratory protection is not required) and customers/clients.
  • Require frequent handwashing and regular cleaning and disinfection.
  • Train workers on these and other elements of the COVID-19 prevention plan, appropriate processes to identify new cases of illness in workplaces and, when they are identified, to intervene quickly and work with public health authorities to halt the spread of the virus.
  • Limit the number of patrons at a single table to a household unit or patrons who have asked to be seated together. People in the same party seated at the same table do not have to be six feet apart. All members of the party must be present before seating and hosts must bring the entire party to the table at one time.
  • Install physical barriers or partitions at cash registers, bars, host stands and other areas where maintaining physical distance of six feet is difficult.
  • Any area where guests or workers queue should also be clearly marked for appropriate physical distancing. This includes checkout stands and terminals, deli counters and lines, restrooms, elevator lobbies, host stands and waiting areas, valet dropoff and pickup, and any other area where customers congregate.

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What about small private gatherings?

For the first time in two months, L.A. County is officially allowing the resumption of private gatherings, as long as they’re held outdoors, attended by members of no more than three households and with no more than 15 people.

But the relaxation of the ban on get-togethers, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said, “is meant to only allow for a household to form a small, stable social group with one or two other households, so that you can get together occasionally — always outdoors, always keeping six feet of distance and always with no more than 15 people.”

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“It just doesn’t work if every night people gather with a different group of folks to have small parties,” she said.

The upcoming Super Bowl is a concern.

Officials fear big watch parties for the game Feb. 7 could trigger another COVID-19 surge at a time when the county is only now emerging from the holiday-fueled one.

Ferrer urged restaurants reopening outdoor dining areas to avoid the mistakes made in the run-up to the World Series and NBA Finals, when crowds of fans crammed into outdoor dining patios.

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“It will be tragic if the Super Bowl becomes a super-spreader of coronavirus,” she said this week.

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