The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health admitted at an oversight board meeting on Tuesday that there was no strong scientific evidence linking the recent outbreak of COVID-19 to support their decision to close restaurants outside.
Outlining the ministry’s arguments for the recently proposed restrictions to take effect on Wednesday, Dr Muntu Davis said restaurant-specific contact tracing data around the coronavirus was scarce, “as a public health unit we need to look into the highest risks and where we can reduce those risks, ”adding that restaurants are in the high risk category.
Instead of specific data, the health official cited a CDC study that targeted 11 different ambulatory care facilities in 10 states as “the best information we have.” The study found that patients with COVID-19 were twice as likely to have dined out.
However, according to FOX 11’s Bill Melugin, the study’s application to the Los Angeles County situation is flawed due to the fact that the research does not discern between indoor and outdoor dining and has was conducted across the United States rather than within the specific community.
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Los Angeles County Supervisory Board Chairman Kathryn Barger argued at the meeting that without firm data showing restaurants specifically to be a major cause of the rise in COVID-19 cases, she “cannot in good conscience ”support the proposed change to close outdoor restaurants on Wednesday.
“I think what is happening today is going to really devastate not only the workers, but also their families,” added Barger, saying she felt the closures were “arbitrary and punitive”.
Supervisor Janice Hahn noted that she had never seen the kind of community rejection the board has heard and noted that the public “really loses faith in the decisions we make.” She asked why the Department of Public Health would not only target restaurants that violate the rules rather than ban all outdoor dining.
Dr Barbra Ferrer, director of the Department of Public Health, said she wanted to be “realistic” about law enforcement.
“There are 31,000 restaurants in LA County, and our team, as hard as they work, has about 300 a week,” said Dr. Ferrer.
She pointed out that social media detailed several examples of restaurants not meeting social distancing guidelines, and that about 19% of restaurants her office investigated were found to be non-compliant with COVID-19 guidelines.
Ferrer stressed that there is an “inherent risk” in restaurants as customers do not always wear masks and often gather with members of other households over a meal, although she is “well aware” frustrations felt by workers, business owners, and diners.
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Barger and Hahn came up with a motion to overturn the Department of Public Health’s decision, but it failed by a 2-3 vote.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who opposed the cancellation of the order, said she “agreed with what our health workers are telling us”, although she “was not indifferent” the economic challenges of restaurants. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl agreed with Solis, adding that she had heard from workers’ rights groups who were excited about the decision to close restaurants in person. Although these groups “worry about the income” for workers, “they would be more protected. They were concerned about things like the approach of no-mask tables. ”
In an interview with FOX Business after the meeting, Barger said the Department of Public Health citing a CDC study rather than presenting concrete evidence was “irresponsible.”
” For [Dr. Davis] to say that they depend on the CDC when we’ve been doing this for seven months and in fact we’ve done inspections that we don’t have data, and yet we’re targeting an industry and say with the number of cases on the rise, we will define [restaurants] to me is irresponsible.«
She added that the council’s decision “speaks volumes that the government is now going too far in that it does not really seek public comment.”
“I would say it is important for people to engage in government and to hold government officials accountable at all levels,” she continued. “And if the data doesn’t support the science, then they should question it. I think we’ve become a society that lets government dictate what we do without asking questions. And I tell you, as a member of the government, but is also very involved in the private sector, question the government, do not assume that what they say is always right. ”
Barger also said she believed public health panicked when the number of cases in the county started to spike, and that the order was simply a “gut reaction to something that has no scientific backing to show. that we’re going to slow the spread. ”
“In fact, we’ve put a final nail in a number of these restaurant coffins,” she added.
While disappointed with the outcome, Barger said she knew she did the right thing to push back the order and fight for an industry that “is unfairly targeted and subjected to truly unfair practices. ”
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The decision came following a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the Restaurant Association for a court order to end the ban on outdoor dining.
Hahn, who was also disappointed with the outcome, stressed the need for federal financial intervention.
“It kills me to think that at this point, a few weeks before the holidays, we are considering an ordinance to force restaurants to perhaps close permanently. We know they will lay off workers if they are restricted to take out and sidewalk only ”. she says. “I really don’t think that’s something I want to do… We’re heading down another economically tragic path. ”
The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation predicted that about 700,000 food industry jobs would be lost during the county’s shutdown, and 75% of all projected job losses would affect people earning $ 50,000 or less.
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