In a letter to the City Council, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Paul Little called on local elected officials to oppose prohibiting outdoor dining as the coronavirus surge appears to be edging the county toward a more restrictive health order and possibly a return to a shutdown.
“The current surge in COVID-19 cases is attributed to Halloween events, the Dodgers and Biden victory — NOT outdoor dining at restaurants, shopping at retail stores or exercising. It makes no sense to penalize restaurants when they are not causing the surge in infection rates. Socially distanced and safe outdoor dining is exactly that, safe,” Little wrote.
“The bigger challenge is that people have been quarantined for so long they are desperate to get together with other people. We are craving contact with other people after eight months of quarantine,” he said. “Why not provide a safe outlet for that by continuing (and maybe expanding) outdoor dining in Pasadena? Allow retail to expand outdoors and provide opportunity for those seeking to exercise outdoors.”
Little’s support of local businesses was echoed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents Pasadena and unincorporated Altadena.
Barger, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, said she will oppose the Department of Public Health’s decision to prohibit outdoor dining at Tuesday’s board meeting.
In a press release, Barger said she opposed the decision because it would cause unnecessary hardship for residents and businesses throughout Los Angeles County.
“These proposed measures by the Department of Public Health will further devastate local businesses and employees who have been asked to shoulder an unfair burden this year,” said Barger.
On Sunday, county health officials said much of the region could return to the Safer-at-Home order implemented at the beginning of the pandemic which allowed take-out or pick-up service at restaurants and only essential businesses to remain open if the daily case rate surpassed 4,000. The virus crossed that threshold on Sunday.
Officials in Pasadena are considering how they will respond if the county prohibits outdoor dining and moves back to the original Safer-at-Home order.
“Please do not curtail outdoor dining,” Little said. “Doing so will not affect infection rates and may force more people into get-togethers that put themselves at risk.”
In the past, the city, which is one of the few California cities with its own Health Department, has issued health orders in concert with the county’s decisions.
Pasadena Public Health Director Dr. Ying-Ying Goh is expected to update the City Council at its meeting this afternoon.
According to Barger, “Businesses throughout the county have invested thousands of dollars to ensure safety for their employees and customers only to be punished for the recent surge they have done everything in their power to prevent.”
On June 18, the county Department of Public Health recommended bars for reopening operations without food service. On that date, the positivity rate in Los Angeles County had risen to more than 9 percent and hospitalizations totaled more than 1,400. Today, hospitalizations are similar and the positivity rate is at 6.7 percent.
According to Barger, the departments of Public Health and Health Services have agreed that doctors are better able to treat the virus and survival rates are much higher.
Barger further pointed to records that show county Public Health has reported that only between 10 to 15 percent of positive cases reported dining out with someone who tested positive, while more than 50 percent reported being at a private social gathering with someone who tested positive. By closing restaurants that are in compliance, the county may adversely incentivize residents to host and attend more private gatherings without safety precautions in place.
County Public Health has shown the compliance rate among businesses averages more than 95 percent. L.A. County has one of the lowest positivity rates in the state and will be the only area to close outdoor dining, indicating this is not a best practice in the effort to slow the spread, she said.
“Businesses have made incredible sacrifices to align with safety protocols to remain open in order to pay their bills and feed their families,” Barger said. “Our hospitalization rates are among the lowest we’ve seen. Yet, the rationale for further closures is tied to the number of patients in the hospital. We’ve come a long way to support workers and residents who are struggling to stay afloat and should not regress on the progress we’ve made.”
The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC) predicted that approximately 700,000 jobs in the food industry would be lost during this shutdown. The LAEDC also highlighted that approximately 75 percent of all projected job losses would be among those earning $50,000 or less.
“Increased case counts are not coming from businesses reopening, but from large gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks,” Barger said. “We aren’t helpless in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and can protect ourselves and our neighbors by maintaining physical distancing and wearing face coverings.”