Supes vote 3-2 to uphold new COVID-19 restrictions

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The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to uphold the Department of Public Health’s decision to halt dining at restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

County officials stopped short of instituting a new Safer at Home order, instead advising residents to remain home as much as possible.

“Everyone should stay home as much as possible and limit going out to what is essential for the next two to three weeks to slow the surging cases and save lives,” Public Health officials said in a prepared statement. “Staying home as much as possible, always wearing face covering securely over your nose and mouth when out and avoiding being near anyone not in your household are the simple actions that slow the spread of COVID-19.”

The board’s move was called “draconian behavior” by Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, who, together with Councilwoman Marsha McLean, suggested the city lend support to the California Restaurant Association with an amicus brief in support of its lawsuit challenging the county’s ban on outdoor dining set to take effect Wednesday night. Under an emergency motion, the council voted 4-0. Mayor Cameron Smyth was not present during the meeting. 

Meeting the thresholds for further restrictions

Following the announcement of the first tightening of COVID-19 restrictions last week, which included the mandatory closure of all non-essential businesses between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., county officials established additional thresholds to further tighten restrictions if these metrics continued to increase, first a five-day average of 4,000 COVID-19 cases per day, then a 4,500-case average.

Back-to-back, those thresholds were met on Sunday and then Monday, with Public Health officials announcing Sunday the closing of outdoor dining at restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars effective 10 p.m. Wednesday, as well as the possibility of a new Safer at Home order. 

In Tuesday’s meeting, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer addressed the quick and dramatic surge that brought the county’s five-day average above the 4,500-case threshold to require the new restrictions.

“We’re always saddened that our public health recommendations during this pandemic have an economic and emotional impact on businesses, families and individuals,” Ferrer said. “As public health practitioners, we’re charged with reducing transmission of a deadly virus that has affected hundreds of thousands of residents. … Inaction in the face of this devastating acceleration of cases will cause irreparable harm.”

L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis did not have exact data when asked if restaurants are driving the surge in cases, instead citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found that those who tested positive are two times more likely to have gone to eat at a restaurant than not.

That being said, Ferrer continued to express her concern that eating at restaurants poses a significant amount of risk of increasing the spread of COVID-19 due to the fact that people typically aren’t wearing masks or with those in their households.

The opposition

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, was the first to oppose the “unnecessary restrictions,” calling for the county to instead align with the state’s order, which allows outdoor dining to continue. 

“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, it actually reaffirms how upset I am about the fact that I feel this is arbitrary and punitive toward outdoor dining at restaurants,” Barger said. “I’m concerned that this county has taken the approach of, ‘Everything should be closed, unless we have a good reason to open it,’ while our approach should be, ‘Will we close sectors, when they prove to carry too much risk?’ Outdoor dining has not hit that threshold for closure.”

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, of the 1st District, also opposed the restrictions, adding, “The fact of the matter is the public doesn’t think that that recommendation is right, and they don’t think it’s going to work. And they are really losing faith and trust in the decisions that we’re making.”

Santa Clarita Councilwoman Marsha McLean also addressed the board during public comment, saying shutting down restaurants is “absolutely wrong” and calling on the board to reconsider the restrictions.

“Just think for a minute about the devastating effects on the restaurant owners and their workers,” McLean said. “This is absolutely unconscionable to do this again when it is not proven that the restaurants have had the ability to spread this disease. I am representing 219,000 people, and I can almost guarantee you 90% of those people do not want to see our businesses fail as they will do if you close them down the day before Thanksgiving.”

Other COVID-19-related measures

Due to the decision to uphold restrictions, Barger announced she’d be asking the county to immediately repurpose $10 million in CARES Act funding for grants for restaurants, breweries and wineries that will be devastated by the closure of outdoor dining and the order.

In addition, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to direct Public Health and the county’s Department of Health Services to engage with local universities with technical expertise on COVID-19-related prevention and response to assist the county in the development of targeted COVID-19 response strategies, as well as reopening plans. 

The Board of Supervisors also unanimously approved a motion to purchase electrostatic disinfection and sanitation services at some county jail facilities, including Pitchess Detention Center, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The purchase of approximately $1.3 million in equipment is set to be funded by the county’s coronavirus relief funds.

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