LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said during a Good Day LA interview Wednesday that she didn't feel she was provided the data that supported closing outdoor dining, a restriction that took effect in the county last week that has drawn heavy criticism from the public.
Hahn was one of two supervisors who voted against the measure implemented by the county's public health department, alongside county Supervisor Kathryn Barger. The county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to support the ban, arguing that restaurant patrons spend extended periods of time in close proximity and without wearing masks.
"When I directly asked the health experts 'was there a connection, a direct link from this surge in cases to outdoor dining?' I didn’t hear the data that I needed to hear to make that decision," Hahn told FOX 11's Michaela Pereira. "Because I knew closing down restaurants at this point would be so devastating to them, it would be the last nail in their coffin."
The county's ban on in-person dining will remain for at least another week but is likely to be extended due to a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The ban on outdoor dining was announced early last week, when the county's five-day average of daily new cases topped the threshold of 4,000. That average subsequently topped 4,500, triggering a targeted "Safer-At-Home" order that tightened capacity restrictions at other businesses and barred most gatherings of people from multiple households.
The county's COVID-19 case numbers, however, continue to rise. The county set a record on Tuesday by reporting nearly 7,600 new cases, while hospitalizations reached a pandemic-high on Wednesday of 2,439.
"We're getting close to overwhelming our hospitals, we don’t know the long-term impacts when somebody contracts this virus – cuz it’s not been around long enough. We know that it's a contagious, deadly virus. There are people who have lost their loved ones," said Hahn. "We are threading the needle between public health and the economy."
While Hahn addressed the alarming surge of cases and hospitalizations, she said she believed that closing outdoor dining wasn't the answer.
"I just feel that there’s a point where you have to allow certain business opportunities to exist even in the midst of a pandemic," she said.
"I would've rather put more restrictions on these restaurants," explained Hahn. "People can only sit at the tables 90 minutes, take reservations, limit the capacity, close them at 10 o’clock at night, and I think the restaurants would've been more than willing to do that."
On Tuesday, Pereira pressed Los Angeles County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, on what science specifically points to restaurants being a prime spreader of the virus.
Ferrer said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a "rigorous study," known as a case-controlled study, "to try to establish where were the highest risk places where people were most likely to become infected."
"Restaurants, whether indoors or outdoors, were deemed one of the places where it’s most likely for people to become infected. And that’s because the science has been abundantly clear — that in places where people are gathering, often with people not in their household, in fairly close contact, over a prolonged period of time, without wearing a face covering — there can be high rates of transmission," said Ferrer.
FOX 11 located the case-controlled study conducted by the CDC and found that while the study does state that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative test results, the study was not specifically related to outdoor dining. Furthermore, the study explicitly says that it does not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining.
It explains that "reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation. Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance."
The ban of outdoor dining has been met with an outcry from restaurant owners across the county, with some saying they spent thousands of dollars to establish safe outdoor dining spaces under the previous county guidelines, only to be forced to shut them down on Nov. 25 without justification. Restaurants in the county are now restricted to carry-out or delivery service.
"These restaurants have been angels. They have done everything we’ve asked from the very beginning. We took them from inside to outside, then we limited their capacity outside," said Hahn. "They’ve spent more of their own money on these outdoor infrastructure dining rooms. They did the gazebos, and the heaters, and the fencing, and the plants and I just thought 'this might be the tipping point for the public,' and I was worried that we would begin to lose the public's trust and faith in the decisions we were making and I think I might be right on that one."
Hahn told Pereira that she feels "so bad for the American worker."
"Their government, for public safety reasons, has shut them down with no help. It would be one thing if the federal government had come through and we could pay people to stay home... we could pay restaurants to close. That would be one thing, then these decisions would be easy. We can’t make these decisions without thinking about the economy and people’s livelihood," she said.
"I want to pay people to stay home," Hahn continued. "I’m gonna knock on the door of the White House and say 'let's pay Americans to stay home' because otherwise, it's not fair, and the people bearing the brunt of this are the small business owners."
The California Restaurant Association and the owner of the downtown Engine Co. No. 28 restaurant, attorney Mark Geragos, challenged the ban in court.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant declined to issue an order lifting the restriction on restaurants. However, he directed county attorneys to provide medical evidence about COVID-19 transmission being used to justify the ban. Chalfant scheduled another hearing for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.