Los Angeles County restaurants continue to prepare for the likely return of public indoor mask mandates by the end of the month, with many looking for possible ways around the ban.
For the last several months, the rise in cases of COVID-19 variants BA.4 and BA.5 led to LA County Public Health officials issuing new warnings that a return to the indoor masking policy was possible if new cases and hospitalizations rate hit the “high” threshold set by the CDC. The County announced on July 15th that they had met the threshold, leaving just two weeks for the rates to drop or else a mask mandate would return on July 29th.
However, some doctors say, “Covid hospitalizations continue to fall from peak of 1,329. The current BA.5 wave has impacted our hospitals even less than BA.1 over the Winter. We have more than enough capacity and resources to handle this wave and the usual ER patients.”
Yet with “cases” rising, and the new monkeypox virus now out there, LA has made it clear that iit is all but certain that the indoor mask mandate will be back in place. While concerning to many, restauranteurs and bar owners, who had been severely affected during the last mandate, now face a major downturn in business.
In LA County, many restaurants have been preparing for a return of the mandate, looking for ways to meet or even go around the more hard-hitting parts of it. One of the most popular ways restaurants are preparing are by increasing outdoor seating, a popular way that many stayed in business by during previous COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
“I never thought I’d be doing this again,” said Roberta Chavez, a restaurant co-owner along with her husband, to the Globe on Monday. “But we are bringing back outdoor seating. We don’t know exactly if it will be covered by the indoor ban, but [the LA County Department of Public Health] has on their website about encouraging outdoor eating areas. There goes a lot of our parking lot again, but we’ll keep those who want to sit-down and eat and don’t want to wear masks.”
“The number of people not wanting to eat somewhere where masking is mandatory is way higher than you’d think. People accepted it early on in the pandemic, but when things improved and masking stayed in place, people stopped coming. We were essentially a take out place and we only survived because of outdoor eating. Take out paid the bills, and outdoor eating paid the employees.”
Restaurants and the mask mandate
App technology has also been significantly expanded, with many restaurants eschewing paper and laminated menus in favor of web-based menus and even ways to order, saving on costlier methods.
“It probably seems cheap to just keep printing out one-time use menus or have laminated menus, but you have to remember that we are constantly changing what we have,” noted restaurant manager Casey Cairns in a Globe interview. “Having a QR code to the menu burns right through that. Because if they bring back masks, we don’t know how much further they’ll go. Menus were a huge hassle for us last time, so this time around we’re playing it safe.
“And we’re planning on as much outdoor seating as possible. If you are old enough to remember smoking and non-smoking sections, we’re actually going to have our waiters say “masking or non-masking”. A health department person said they hated that, so we’re doing it as a bit of a ‘screw you’ to them. You’re forcing us to lose business? Ferrer doesn’t have a heart for small business owners? Fine, we’ll find ways to resist.
“We don’t mind people coming in wearing masks on their own accord. In fact, sometimes, the person may be sick with a cold or something and is just doing that as a favor. That’s fine. But when you start forcing it, bad things begin to happen for us.”
Another restaurant owner, who asked for anonymity, told the Globe, “You can be sure that we will be looking for, and finding, loopholes. We did last time and found a way to be largely maskless. It wasn’t easy, but we found a way. Now we have that challenge once again. Outdoor seating will be a big part of this, but if the mandate is anything like it was last time, there is a lot of grey area to play around in. It will still be bad and I hope the Department of Public Health grows a conscious at some point, but there will be ways around a lot of what they will order. We can guarantee that.”
Public indoor masking mandates are expected to come back to LA County on Friday at the earliest.
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