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Reversal of California Outdoor Dining Ban Points to Public Health Confusion

 February 3, 2021 at 10:17 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego's new COVID cases dropped to a two month low yesterday, hospitalizations and ICU admissions also continue to decline, but is count of 926. New cases is still several times higher than when the first stay at home order was lifted late. Last spring. The same situation is reported in most of California cases down, but still much higher than in most of last year. So why has the state lifted this stay at home order, allowing outdoor dining and other activities. Now it's a question that's troubling. Some health officials, business owners and service workers who see high rates of transmission and vaccinations for them still months away. Joining me is reporter Anna [inaudible] with Kaiser health news and Anna, welcome to the program. Thanks for having me your report, that there is confusion about why this lockdown has been lifted. Now, what has the state said about the timing? Speaker 2: 01:01 The state explains that based on their projections on ICU capacity, because of the falling new case numbers that in a few weeks, there'll be, um, back up to very robust ICU capacity. So based on those projections, they're saying that it's prudent to lift the ICU based, stay at home order. It's, it's difficult for business owners and workers, especially those in the service industry to understand one of the restaurant owners told me since when do we do anything based on projections. We only hope that ICU capacity will continue to rise, but we can't be sure Speaker 1: 01:38 The state messaging is also odd. Is it okay to dine outdoors with friends or not Speaker 2: 01:45 Health and human services? Secretary Mark Golley appeared in a video explaining the lifting of the ban and the returned to outdoor dining. And one of the slides that appeared next to his face said, if you miss a friend, you can go out to eat outside in a restaurant together. Los Angeles County has said, actually, you can't do that. We are restricting outdoor dining only to tables from people within a single household. Um, I'm not sure how a restaurant workers will be able to determine or verify, um, what people say is true. Speaker 1: 02:14 One of the infectious disease doctors you spoke with said the banning of outdoor dining in particular was never exactly data-driven. Can you tell us about that? Speaker 2: 02:24 Yes. This is Dr. Monica Gandhi. She's a professor of medicine and infectious disease at UCF all throughout this pandemic. The state of California has been saying we're using data and we are trusting in science, but when it comes to outdoor dining, either contact tracing wasn't robust enough, or there are too many other mitigating factors for the state or counties to really say that outdoor dining specifically was a major driver or even a significant minority driver. In, in cases, people were thinking if this isn't based on data to begin with, how are we going to know when we can get out of this ban? Now, San Diego County says outbreaks Speaker 1: 03:00 In community settings like restaurants and retail dropped more than 25% during the recent stay at home order. So was it just having people stay at home that was beneficial? Speaker 2: 03:13 I think everybody can agree that the more businesses shut down, whether they're restaurants or retail, then the more people stay at home. The slower the transmission of the disease is going to be that's for sure, what restaurant owners are afraid of now is because we're starting at such a higher level of cases. When the economy opens back up, the cases are going to start to rise at such a higher level than when we were back in November of 2020, Speaker 1: 03:37 One of the restaurant owners you spoke with said, he'd rather wait another month or so with more of a certainty that the reopening would be permanent. This opening and closing has been very hard on the industry. Hasn't it? Speaker 2: 03:49 Yes. Restaurants say that they can't adequately plan for what food and other supplies, which are obviously perishable. They can buy. Um, if the restaurant is just going to get closed down again, there's also an issue with workers who may be don't want to come back and take on that additional risk if they're receiving unemployment. However, with the closure of so many restaurants right now, um, servers and workers especially feel that they don't really have a choice. If they're asked to come back, they probably will go back because they don't have the luxury of closing down relationships and networks. Speaker 1: 04:26 And even though coming back to work means having a job, there's a certain amount of dread among some of the service workers that you spoke with. Speaker 2: 04:34 Yes. I spoke to a bartender named Vincent peel, and he said that he's so puzzled that restaurant service workers are being allowed to return when they have not yet had access to the vaccine. Of course he said he would return if asked because he can't afford to not continue having these, um, professional relationships that could lead to more longterm or stable jobs in the future. But he, he just said that it doesn't seem worth it for him to have to serve people, food, and drink in a restaurant setting so that other people can feel, uh, returned to normal. Speaker 1: 05:11 So with all this confusion, uh, that you encountered are some restaurant owners you spoke with voluntarily postponing, reopening, outdoor dining, kind of waiting to see what will happen. Speaker 2: 05:23 Yes. I spoke to the owner of Salazar. It's a Mexican barbecue restaurant in Los Angeles. His name is Billy Silverman. He said, after canvassing his staff, most of whom said they don't want to return. He has decided to put off reopening, even though he's legally allowed to. He says that he wants to wait until at least the cases and the hospitalizations are back down in numbers to when Los Angeles banned outdoor dining in the first place right now, he says it doesn't make any sense to return. Speaker 1: 05:52 I've been speaking with reporter and an Elman drama with Kaiser health news and Anna, thank you very much. Speaker 2: 05:58 Thanks for having me. Thanks for bringing light to this important topic.

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Outdoor dining is resuming in California under state and local orders issued last week — but with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths still far higher than they were when the bans took effect, restaurant owners and workers are wary of reopening their patios and parking lots.
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