Appeals court rules L.A. County can reimpose outdoor dining ban

A waiter serves food to a family dining at Smokehouse on Main in Newhall on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon. February 07, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

As Los Angeles County inches closer to a loosening of restrictions as COVID-19 figures continue their decline, a state appeals court ruled last week that county Department of Public Health officials could reinstate outdoor dining restrictions on restaurants if cases spike again.  

The new ruling by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal reverses a lower court’s December ruling, which would have required public health officials to prove in court how outdoor dining poses a significant risk for COVID-19 transmission. 

County Public Health officials released a statement following the ruling, which noted they are pleased that the court of appeal recognized the importance of taking quick, affirmative measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

Public Health officials also noted that the ruling “will help public health officials continue to protect the health and safety of all Californians.” 

Public Health officials released detailed guidelines under the red tier Thursday, which allow restaurants to reopen at this capacity, with additional safety modifications, including: 

  • Eight feet distancing between tables;  
  • One household per table indoors with a limit of 6 people; outdoor dining can accommodate up to 6 people per table from 3 different households. 
  • The HVAC system is in good working order and has been evaluated, and to the maximum extent possible ventilation has been increased.  
  • Public Health also strongly recommends that all restaurant employees interacting with customers indoors are provided with additional masking protection (above the currently required face shield over face masks); this can be fit tested N95 masks, KN95 masks, or double masks and a face shield.  
  • In addition, Public Health strongly recommends that all employees working indoors are informed about and offered opportunities to be vaccinated.  

However, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has continued to warn of the potential for a new surge in cases if county residents relax as restrictions are loosened, noting the county should be “extraordinarily cautious” this month and next. 

The ruling comes as state public health officials have said L.A. County could soon be entering the red tier, where dining would again be allowed indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people (whichever is fewer), in the coming weeks. 

“We’ve been here before,” Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday. “We’ve been here with reopenings. We’ve been here with travel around Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’ve seen what happens around holidays if we’re not really careful. … We’ve got to keep everybody alive right now so they can get vaccinated and stay alive. So this would be a time for extreme caution.”  

Ferrer cited a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found on-premises restaurant dining — whether indoors or outdoors — contributes to increases in COVID cases and deaths, as masks often aren’t worn during this time, increasing the risk of transmission.  

Even so, some board members, including Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, said the county should align its health order with the state’s.  

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