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California moves toward widespread suspension of outdoor dining

The rollback of services to takeout and delivery could begin in broad regions of the state within a day or two, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
California outdoor dining
Photograph: Shutterstock

California is adopting a stringent new defense against COVID-19 that could bring a suspension of outdoor restaurant dining in much of the state starting later this week.

The discontinuation of all in-person dining would last in those areas for at least three weeks. Afterward, the resumption of onsite service would be prohibited until at least 15% of the beds in local hospitals’ intensive care units (ICU) are available for new patients.  

Eating places would be allowed to continue offering takeout and delivery. Indoor dining has already been suspended in much of the state, but most of the affected areas have still been permitted to offer outdoor table service.

Bars would be shut down.

A key part of the new strategy is imposing strict stay-at-home rules for consumers, with fewer exceptions permitted under the new lockdown. The directives echo the restrictions that were imposed today on Los Angeles by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has forbidden even such modes of travel as bicycling or walking. The stricter rules would almost certainly dampen impulse sales of carryout meals.

The new emergency measures outlined Thursday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom would divide the state into five regions. If the availability of ICU beds should dip below 15% of a region’s inventory, that area would instantly go into a lockdown, with all in-person restaurant dining suspended.

Regions that dip below the 15% threshold will be required to shut down within 48 hours. None of the five regions has currently hit the 15% trigger, but Newsom has projected that all five are likely to hit the trigger at some point this month, starting “as early as the next day or two,” the governor said.

Newsom, a veteran of the restaurant business, acknowledged the wallop his plan will deal to the state’s restaurants. “I deeply empathize and I have deep appreciation for the stress and the struggles our restaurants have had,” the Democrat said. “I know how challenging this is.” He praised Jot Condie, head of the California Restaurant Association, and that group for the leadership they’ve shown in helping members contend with the crisis.

Newsom said the severe moves are necessary because of a near-vertical upswing in new coronavirus infections. He expressed fears that the state’s healthcare system will not be able to keep up with the surge unless drastic action is taken. But he stressed that the measures will be temporary.

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