By Terry Miller
With Los Angeles County now reporting on average nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases per day and the region’s ICU capacity dropping below 15%, which triggered the state’s new stay-at-home order on Sunday, restaurants in Pasadena had no choice but to comply and cease outdoor dining.
Last weekend, Old Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard experienced wall-to-wall people and extraordinarily long lines to dine in the only city in the county that allowed outdoor dining. In fact, some businesses were forced to stop serving as they ran out of food. People traveled from all over Los Angeles County to experience what some coined “The Last Supper” — a Biblical nod to the pending major shutdown which took effect in the city at 10 p.m. on Sunday.
What a difference a day or two makes. Walking the streets on Tuesday at lunchtime one could only find boarded up businesses and the normally bustling Old Pasadena looking more like a ghost town. A few businesses were open for takeout but there were very few people walking about, other than a few delivery people picking up orders to go. Several businesses — replete with plywood — seem to anticipate continued danger.
In Monrovia, some have taken to buying takeout and eating while sitting on city benches as if to thumb their collective noses at the state for the restrictions than many people feel are more punitive than necessary, especially those constraints attached to restaurants already suffering.
California’s latest restrictions have been criticized by small business owners who have criticized lawmakers for what they believe to be arbitrary restrictions. For example, Los Angeles restaurant owner Angela Marsden’s viral video drew considerable attention this week for showing a film crew’s outdoor dining area across from her shuttered eatery.
According to reporting from The New York Times, “The county health department noted in a statement that film crews are regularly tested for the virus and that, unlike at restaurants, people do not mingle for ‘extended periods of time without their face covering.’ Audiences are not allowed at film sites under the county’s guidelines.” Furthermore, the guidelines stipulate that “Employees are prohibited from eating or drinking anywhere other than in designated areas to assure that masks are worn consistently and correctly. Cast and crew must eat and drink at designated set areas with staggered schedules.”
Since March, an undetermined number of eateries have shuttered altogether in the growing wake of the pandemic. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently or long-term across the U.S. due to the pandemic. Bloomberg’s Carolina Gonzalez reports that “The Washington-based trade group shared the latest results with Congressional leaders in an attempt to secure financial support for a sector rocked by rising costs and falling sales.”
As we reported last week, some restaurants are choosing to defy this new round of closures, though the legality of some of these ideas remains dubious.
Barbara Bingley of ABC 10 reports that Denis Xenos, owner of Denis’ Country Kitchen in San Joaquin County, has started charging a $1 membership fee to keep providing indoor dining. “The righteous way to do this was not being open to the public but having a members-only facility,” Xenos told ABC 10. The legality of this move has yet to be challenged in court.
Some restauranteurs have simply said they refuse to comply with the outdoor dining ban and take their chance on getting a warning or fine.
“COVID is a terrible thing. There is no argument there,” Alex Jordan, owner of a diner in Redondo Beach, told KTLA. “But I’m not sure that picking on restaurants to such a degree is the answer.”
Even sheriffs across the southland are refusing to enforce these guidelines.
“These closures and stay-at-home orders are flat-out ridiculous,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a video posted online. “The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department will not be blackmailed, bullied or used as muscle against Riverside County residents in the enforcement of the governor’s order,” he said.
In Orange County, Sheriff Don Barnes said in statement that “To put the onus on law enforcement to enforce these orders against law-abiding citizens who are already struggling through difficult circumstances, while at the same time criticizing law enforcement and taking away tools to do our jobs, is both contradictory and disingenuous.”
Despite ongoing debate over restrictions, the growing numbers daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain very real and public health officials continue to urge residents to comply with guidelines.
However, according to Maanvi Singh of The Guardian, “Nine months into the pandemic, Californians are less likely to adhere to a strict lockdown. Despite changing rules and restrictions, the share of Californians who have met with people outside their household has remained steady for months, at around 35 to 45%, per surveys conducted by the University of Southern California.”
Monica Ganhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Guardian: “There’s true, true pandemic fatigue — and it’s not because the public is selfish, it’s that there’s a true desire to be with other people. And that’s part of being human.”
“The message of the day is, as much as you can, be at home,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said last week.
The next two to three weeks are of critical importance since millions did not adhere to the Thanksgiving travel advisory and as the country awaits to see what happens with upcoming holidays.