This morning, citing rapidly rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the state, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order forbidding restaurants in 19 counties – including Los Angeles – from offering indoor dining for at least the next three weeks. Take-out and pickup orders will still be allowed, as will outdoor dining on site. The order also shuttered some other kinds of venues, including wineries, tasting rooms, entertainment centers, movie theaters, zoos, museums and card rooms. The move came just two days after Newsom re-closed bars in the same counties.
“This doesn’t mean restaurants are shut down,” Newsom was quoted as saying in the LA Times after the announcement. “It means that we’re trying to take the activities, as many activities as we can — these mixed activities, these concentrated activities — and move them outdoors, which is a way of mitigating the spread of this virus.”
Locally, the Buzz has learned that at least some of our local re-opened restaurants, which were already focusing more on outdoor than indoor dining, are well positioned to take the new order in stride.
“We were and are only seating people outside,” said Nora Houndalas, of Le Petit Greek, on Larchmont Blvd. “We felt it was safest decision. To be honest, no one has requested dining room. Everyone who is brave enough to venture out has wanted to be outdoors.” (The restaurant will remain open for takeout and “al fresco” dining during the July 4 weekend.)
And Frances Tario, owner operator of Dupar’s at the Original Farmers Market, was similarly unruffled. Tario told the Buzz today that she recently decided to focus on serving customers on the restaurant’s patio anyway, because she noticed customers were not always following the rules for inside dining (like wearing masks when they were not at their tables, or moving between two tables for larger parties). Tario said she can only seat a maximum of 6 people at a table, and if parties were broken up, she’d see people moving around the restaurant without their masks.
“I was about to tell my staff that we should cancel inside dining and focus on patio service for the safety of my staff and our customers,” said Tario. “We have been working on patio service for awhile now and it’s going really well. We take everyone’s temperature before they arrive, we have tables spaced apart and stickers to show distances and we limit the time people can stay to eighty minutes.”
“Before COVID-19, our business was all inside dining,” Tario said. “Now we have grown our take out service and our patio service. I just want to make sure everyone knows we are open for take out and patio service.” (So if you’re hungry for Dupar’s old fashioned diner food, they’re open 24 hours and you can order through Chow Now, Door Dash, Postmates and Mercato, or call directly at (323) 933-8446 for pickup, to avoid the restaurant having to pay delivery fees.)
Finally, we also caught up with Steve Vernetti, Vernetti’s Italian restaurant on Larchmont, whose phone blew up this morning with calls from panicked vendors and staff who read the Eater LA headline “Governor Newsom to Order Immediate Closure of LA Restaurant Dining Rooms Over Next Three Weeks.” While technically correct, Vernetti said, the headline gave the incorrect impression that restaurants were ordered to fully close.
“This is all landing in my lap in real time and I’m trying to process this,” Vernetti texted the Buzz. “We will be adding more tables outside to handle the increase in outside demand. But fortunately, it won’t affect us like it will most everyone else.”
Vernetti said he was recently approved to take over two parking spots out front of the restaurant, as part of the City’s Al Fresco Dining program, and he is trying to sort out how to use the additional spaces for guests to check in for their reservations, as well as a place to safely pickup takeaway orders.
“We welcome the chance to show Governor Newsom that small independent restaurants like ours are not responsible for spreading COVID-19 and hopefully he will have a less ham-fisted way of implementing protections that actually protect without destroying small business in the process,” an exasperated Vernetti told us.
As for why the 19 specific counties were chosen for the new restaurant restrictions, the LA Times noted that they were flagged under new “watch list” standards:
“Under new standards to reverse reopening at the local level, a county is flagged and placed on the state’s watch list if it reports an elevated transmission of the disease, defined as two-week average of more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents, or more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents and a weekly average positivity rate of at least 8%. A hospitalization rate increase of an average of more than 10% over three days, or a drop in hospital capacity to fewer than 20% of beds or fewer than 25% of ventilators available could also result in a county landing on the watch list.”
And as the Buzz reported yesterday, the cumulative COVID-19 case count for LA County has now topped 100,000, with record-setting totals of more than 2,900 new cases each day for the last several days in a row.
Most public health officials now agree that outdoor gatherings, with adequate social distancing, are not as dangerous as people gathering in enclosed spaces without adequate air circulation. One of the best tips we’ve heard so far to help keep the virus from spreading was coined recently by LA’s favorite seismologist and respected source for many things science, Dr. Lucy Jones…who said, very simply, in a recent LA Times interview: “Don’t Share Your Air!” Sticking to takeout and outdoor dining for now should help us maintain that worthy pursuit.
[This story was updated after its initial publication to add the comments from Vernetti owner Steve Vernetti.]