On November 22, Los Angeles became the only county in America this winter to ban outdoor dining.
The order, which will last a minimum of three weeks, will be financially devastating for many restaurants and could lead would-be diners to congregate in venues that are less safe.
There's no evidence that outdoor dining has contributed to the spread of COVID-19, nor has indoor dining been particularly risky. Los Angeles County public health data identifies 16 restaurants where the virus was spread, but this occurred among employees and not customers. Restaurants don't even make the county's top five list of COVID-19 exposure sites. The county has found that most restaurants comply with its health orders, and cases fell throughout the summer even while outdoor dining was permitted.
"I personally feel like we're being punished," says Kat Turner, a chef and partner at Highly Likely cafe in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.
"They've shut us without saying, 'Hey, here's a solution…This is how we're going to help you get through this period,'" says David Combes, the executive director of Botanical Hospitality Group. The company owns two restaurants in West Hollywood, including E.P. & L.P., which was forced to shift to outdoor rooftop dining.
Combes says he and his partners have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the restaurant can provide a safe and compliant outdoor dining experience. They haven't turned a profit since it reopened.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued the order the weekend before Thanksgiving, citing a 108 percent increase in cases and rising hospitalizations.