Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday against allowing restaurants to remain open for dining during a surge in coronavirus cases that has the nation's most populous county on the brink of a stay-home order just days ahead of Thanksgiving.
In a 3-2 vote, the board rejected a motion to let restaurants continue to serve meals outdoors at reduced capacity, despite a plea from owners that a closure was unwarranted and would crush their businesses.
The county crossed a threshold for issuing a new stay-home order Monday, but the Department of Public Health has not yet acted.
“Our metrics are the most alarming metrics that we’ve ever seen,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “Inaction in the face of this devastating acceleration of cases will cause irreparable harm.”
Ferrer told supervisors that a proposed stay-home order would be more modest than a statewide closure in the spring but was necessary to try to curb a dramatic spike in cases.
Like all states across the U.S., California is experiencing a surge of cases that threaten to overwhelm hospitals.
Daily case numbers in California have set records on several days recently. Hospitalizations statewide have increased 81% in the last two weeks and by nearly 400 patients in a day.
“Statewide, I don’t believe we’ve ever seen as many hospital admissions increase like we did just in the past 24 hours” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health secretary said. “I hope, but don’t expect, that it will be the highest that we’ve ever had.”
Public health officials are bracing for a wave of cases that could follow gatherings at Thanksgiving. Ghaly urged people to say “No” to family members who want to get together to celebrate.
Medical centres are prepared to increase capacity for patients and Los Angeles has plans to set up field hospitals if necessary, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
“At this rate, our hospitals won’t have any spare beds by Christmas time,” Garcetti said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for almost all residents and urged people to avoid nonessential travel during what is typically the busiest travel period of the year. Anyone entering California is advised to quarantine for two weeks.
Most of the state is under the strictest rules for operating businesses that limit capacity of retail operations and prevent indoor dining.
In Los Angeles, however, the spike in cases led public health officials on Sunday to go further and issue an order to halt all dining. That would take effect after Wednesday.
The California Restaurant Association failed Tuesday in its efforts to challenge that order in court.
The group wanted to bar any shutdown until Los Angeles County health officials provide medical or scientific evidence that outdoor restaurant dining poses an unreasonable risk to public health. A judge rejected the effort.
The city of Pasadena, which has an independent public health department, broke with Los Angeles County and decided to allow outside dining to continue at restaurants while it assesses virus numbers.
“We need to balance our growing numbers and the economic hardship of restaurant personnel,” said a statement released by spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.
Associated Press writer Daisy Nguyen in Oakland contributed to this report.
Brian Melley And Christopher Weber, The Associated Press