LA starts reopening during COVID. You could sit down at a restaurant patio by Friday

By Evan George and Tara Atrian

At a Japanese restaurant in Culver City, California, chairs sit on top of tables at the outdoor dining area, January 21, 2021. Outdoor dining in the LA area was banned starting in mid-December. But late January 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom is lifting his statewide stay-at-home order. Photo by Amy Ta.

Los Angeles County is about to loosen some COVID-19 restrictions. That includes allowing outdoor dining at restaurants and personal care services like beauty salons (with some limitations).

The announcement comes just hours after California lifted the regional stay-at-home order, citing some promising signs that the surge of new infections has crested. Gov. Gavin Newsom released a projected rise in ICU capacity over the next four weeks. 

“Los Angeles County will essentially align with the state by the end of the week to allow for the reopening of permitted activities under the purple tier,” LA Supervisor Hilda Solis said during a press briefing. 

Personal care businesses, including nail and hair salons, can open at 25% capacity starting today. Museums, gyms and faith services can open outdoor operations. Family entertainment centers, card rooms and things like batting cages can come back, but outside only and at 50% capacity. 

Patio dining at restaurants will be allowed at limited capacity starting Friday, with more details to come, health officials said. But even that limited reopening will be significant to restaurants owners.

Bill Allen, CEO of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), said today that full-service restaurants are going to have the hardest time recovering. "They are down 49% in employment year over year in full-service restaurants. We've seen a very large number of them, thousands of them, closing permanently, in our region."

The pandemic is far from over in Los Angeles, which has been the epicenter for months. Just today, LA County reported 46 new COVID deaths, more than 6,600 new confirmed cases, and heightened concerns of new variants of the virus. 

Many Angelenos who have followed the state and local rules since November question such a quick reopening. People who wait tables and work in salons will still be at a heightened risk of infection as they head back to work. 

LA County says these lifted restrictions are driven by data and science. According to the state, Southern California’s ICU capacity is projected to be at around 33% by February 21. Residents are still urged to follow safety measures like wearing masks and social distancing. If the numbers start to rise again, those restrictions could come back.  

 “The situation, as you know, can change overnight. Like we've seen before, more restrictions may be needed if the variance and noncompliance lead to more transmission and more hospitalizations,” says Solis.