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California proceeds with widespread suspension of outdoor dining

Restaurants in most of the state are now limited to takeout and delivery.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants in most of California have suspended outdoor dining as well as indoor service for at least the next three weeks under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new plan for flattening a surge in coronavirus infections.

The shutdowns eliminate in-person dining for a swath of the state that stretches from its southern border up through the San Francisco Bay Area, a huge expanse that’s home for more than 70% of the population. Restaurants throughout the state can continue to offer takeout and delivery.

Under the plan Newsom unveiled last week, the state has been divided into five regions. Newsom warned that each sector would be required to suspend onsite dining—outdoors and inside—when its inventory of available intensive care unit beds dipped below 15% of the total inventory. Two regions hit that trigger over the weekend. Together, those areas host about 28 million residents.

The third region, the Bay Area, had not yet dropped below the 15% threshold by the start of the weekend, and California health officials had forecast that conditions wouldn’t reach that level for several weeks. But county leaders decided to suspend outdoor dining there as a pre-emptive safety measure. Operators there objected that they will likely suffer further losses because the quicker shutdown caught them by surprise.

“After listening to the Governor’s announcement, San Francisco restaurants thought that a further shutdown of outdoor dining would come around mid-December and were making staffing and operational plans around that,” the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a local trade group, said in a statement. “The duration is an additional challenge.”

After three weeks, health officials will reassess the inventory of affected regions to determine if the discontinuation of outdoor dining or even indoor service can be lifted.

The discontinuation of outdoor table service in all but California’s northernmost areas—relatively lightly populated areas of the state—is the latest instance of areas facing new service limitations as a third wave of coronavirus rages across the country. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had set thresholds that would trigger a rollback in restaurant dining room capacities to 50%, from75%. Those thresholds were reached in a number of counties, including the home turf of the Dallas metroplex—in recent days.

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