LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Restaurants up and down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood Wednesday were once again getting ready to offer outdoor dining.
"I'm looking forward to seeing all the regulars and people come back out," George Figares, manager of Fiesta Cantina, said. "Most importantly bringing back our staff and making sure people are employed."
But officials said that the latest round of reopening will most likely come with tougher health safety requirements.
"It would be nice if we knew exactly when they are going to give us these parameters, because we don't feel comfortable opening until we know exactly what parameters the health department is looking for," Erroll Roussel, co-owner of Kitchen 24, said.
Current guidelines for outdoor dining include limiting capacity to no more than 50% with tables placed at least six feet apart from one another. Servers must also wear personal protective equipment, including masks and face shields.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health director, said that the county would meet with restaurant operators and employee unions and would likely release the new guidelines Thursday — less than one day before restaurants are expected to be allowed to resume outdoor dining.
But, Ferrer said, the scenes of sports fans crowding in during the World Series and NBA Championship cannot happen again.
"People were crowded, holding their drinks, standing up, not wearing any face coverings, watching a TV at a restaurant all packed in," she said. "That's not the rule.
"You can't be standing and eating and drinking," she continued. "You can't be gathering in crowds, that's where transmission happened and will happen again."
As for the county's vaccine rollout, officials said it was still progressing slower than desirable due to the continued lack of supply and the need for second doses for healthcare workers vaccinated at the start of the year.
And while the state has announced it would be moving to an age-based distribution system for the COVID-19 vaccine, Ferrer said the county would complete its vaccinations for those already eligible first.
"The governor did announce that they were thinking of moving to an aged-based prioritization system, but we will complete Phase 1b, Tier 1, that includes both people who are 65 and older [along] with three important essential worker sectors — education and childcare, day care, agriculture and food and public safety," she said.
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom's office announced that health insurance giant Blue Shield of California would now be in charge of allocating doses directly to providers, a job that had up to this point been performed by local health departments.
"If this helps speed that up, then I'm all for it," Dr. Mike Wasserman, who sits on the state's vaccine advisory committee, said.
Kaiser will also run a separate vaccination program for its providers.
Public Health Wednesday reported 6,917 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 307 additional deaths, bringing countywide totals to 1,091,712 cases and 15,897 deaths.
Officials said there were 6,211 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in L.A. County, 25% of whom were being treated in intensive care units and 23% of whom were on ventilators.
With testing results available for more than 5.4 million people, the county's overall positivity rate was holding steady at 19% — though health officials noted that the daily positivity rate was continuing to decline.
And Ferrer said that she was hopeful that more sectors, such as schools, could start to reopen if daily positivity rates and hospitalizations continued their decline, though Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles have both said they want all teachers and staff vaccinated before returning to in-person learning.
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