Many counties have announced an immediate re-opening, with restaurants only given a few days notice to prepare for outdoor seating and to bring their restaurants up to COVID-19 health guidelines. In San Francisco, restaurants are due to open on Thursday, the 28th. In some counties like Orange County, it’s as soon as they’re ready. And then there are restaurants places in Sacramento County, that have already gone through with the rush to open when the Sacramento region was removed from statewide lockdown orders earlier this month.
In Los Angeles County, officials announced re-openings through the week, with outdoor dining returning on Friday.
“Los Angeles will essentially align with the state by the end of the week on its own public health order,” explained Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Hilda Solis on Monday. “But please don’t take this news to mean that you can return to life of normalcy. Masks, physical distancing and limiting activities are still key to getting out of this pandemic until we can get everybody vaccinated.”
While final guidelines have yet to be put in place for the County, Los Angeles County health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said that capacity restrictions in outdoor dining would be in place, as well as tougher enforcement on PPE usage and social distancing.
“We are going to take a hard look at personal protective equipment that workers are using at restaurants,” explained Dr. Ferrer on Monday. “We need to make sure customers are not crowded, to limit exposure to each other with this virus. LA County remains in the purple tier, and as many of you remember, that is the most restrictive tier, because we still have a lot of community transmission.”
But with a green light now to reopen, or at least to stay open longer with more customers being allowed inside, businesses are fighting to get up to guidelines once more, much like several times last year when businesses were given little warning on new re-openings.
A few restaurants managed to skirt around the lockdown and stay open for in-person dining in secret since the lockdown began in November, and thus are prepared for such a reopening. But for others who have only really focused on standards in the kitchen and the few other places where employees were allowed during the lockdown, a return to table service means a lot more preparation is needed to beat the clock.
‘Every day matters for us’
“Every day matters for us,” explained “Julio,” a restaurant owner in Burbank. “Everyday of having sit-down service, even outside, can make the difference of being able to stay open or not. That’s how much those margins matter.”
“But right now we only have until Friday to get it all ready. And, you know, it probably seems so easy for those not in the business. You know, get some gloves, some masks, sanitize everything, and you’re good, right? Well, the answer is no.”
“New menus have to be prepared and either printed off or laminated. We need a refresher for all servers. Some places I know need to hire or rehire servers in a few days time because they had to fire them back in November. We have to reconfigure how much we need, what we get from suppliers, you know. Even if it’s just outdoor dining, that’s a sudden big jump in business from just takeout orders and deliveries. That takes prep. All I can really say is that I’m glad that we were actually given warning this time so that we don’t have to lose any vital days of customers coming in.”
LA County health officials, as well as officials from other counties, also warned that outdoor dining could go away at anytime, much like it did in November, if COVID-19 cases and deaths go back up.
“If people aren’t able to adhere to the rules, if we have a lot of outbreaks, we’ll be in the horrible position of having to backtrack,” added Dr. Ferrer on Monday. “This is not the time for people to think we can get back to our normal businesses and our normal ways of interacting with each other. If we’re not careful, our metrics that are headed in the right direction will quickly change.”
In addition to restaurants, other businesses may also see a similar backtrack if rates don’t continue to fall. Outdoor gyms, museums, zoos, card rooms, aquariums, as well as indoor malls and hotels, are among businesses allowed to reopen this week to varying capacities with the order that, like restaurants, could be hurt if lockdowns are reinstated.
“The virus remains very much with us and continues to infect thousands of people daily, and tragically claim hundreds of lives each week,” added Dr. Ferrer. “While there’s hope with the arrival of vaccines, we are still months away from a point where most of our residents will be immunized.”
For many restaurant owners though, going back isn’t an option.
“They can’t keep flipping us on and off in terms of opening and reopening,” said Julio’s wife “Carmen”. “You do that one too many times and you’re going to blow a fuse.”
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