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Outdoor Dining Expected To Return To SoCal As Regional Stay-At-Home Order Ends

The elimination of state-imposed restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus is poised to provide a much-needed boost to LA County restaurants.  

California officials on Monday lifted a regional stay-at-home order that had been in place since December, the California Department of Public Health announced. The change is effective immediately. 

LA County public health officials indicated that, by the end of the week, they would be aligning county rules regarding which businesses can operate with the state's guidelines, meaning that outdoor dining will return.

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"California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we've been hoping for," California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement. "Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared."

The Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California were still under the order when it was lifted. Now, the state returns to the four-tiered system that dictates what can be open and at what occupancy levels.

The stay-at-home order was tied to the availability of intensive care unit beds and was triggered when that number dipped below 15%.

“Four-week ICU capacity projections for these three regions are above 15%, the threshold that allows regions to exit the order,” the release from the state’s public health department reported. 

In a press conference Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom explained that the capacity projections also took into account community transmission rates and regional case rates, as well as the proportion of cases admitted to ICUs. Newsom said that although the stay-at-home order was lifted, it did not mean a full return to pre-pandemic normal.

Though case rates and positivity rates are going down and state health officials anticipate more declines in hospitalizations and in ICU admissions, Newsom noted 54 of the state’s 58 counties are still in purple, the most restrictive tier

“We are not out of the woods,” Newsom said.

The 11 counties that make up Southern California are among those that are in that purple tier, which, despite having the most stringent rules about what businesses can operate, does allow for outdoor dining and the reopening of hair and nail salons with modifications to their occupancy levels. 

The state’s tiered system provides a baseline, allowing for local officials to create tighter restrictions for their jurisdictions when appropriate. In LA County, public health officials shuttered outdoor dining in November, though some cities with their own health departments, like Pasadena, kept outdoor dining on the table until the state’s stay-at-home orders went into effect.

"Timing and safeguards will be instituted. But please don’t take this news to mean you can return to normalcy,” LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said. “The situation can change overnight."

Solis added that if hospitalizations and transmissions spiked again, she wasn't ruling out adding restrictions. LA County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that while updated direction would be coming on Friday, the outdoor dining ban was in place until then. 

The likely return of outdoor dining to LA County will be welcome news for restaurant owners, many of whom were irked by the outdoor dining ban. The California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the ban from being implemented. Others accepted it as a necessity but faulted government for not pairing the shutdown with funding to help businesses survive.