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L.A. County Bans Televisions at Restaurants Ahead of Super Bowl Sunday

In Monrovia, food lovers were quick to take advantage of the lifting of the outdoor dining ban at Stinkin’ Crawfish on Colorado Boulevard. | Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

Sports fans and restaurants agitated; health officials worry Super Bowl could be next super spreader event

By Terry Miller

Even though the outdoor dining ban and regional stay-at-home order are now lifted, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has put numerous conditions on eateries that have boggled some who like to eat and watch a game or two at a favorite restaurant.

The latest health order directs restaurants to pull the plug on their televisions – just in time for the Super Bowl. “Televisions or any other screens that are used to broadcast programming or other entertainment must be removed from the area or turned off,” it stipulates.

“We know that Super Bowl Sunday is coming up, and we can’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s public health department, said last Wednesday. “It will be tragic if the Super Bowl becomes a super-spreader of coronavirus.”

The county’s revised order reinstated previous restrictions on outdoor dining: requiring servers to wear masks and face shields, limiting tables to no more than six people from the same household and requiring tables to be at least 8 feet apart. The maximums number of customers in outdoor dining areas is “determined by the total number of seats available after tables are spaced at least 8 feet apart from any other table and with a maximum of six (6) seats at each table.” Restaurants are also encouraged to collect contact information from customers in case there’s a future need to reach out in contact-tracing efforts.

One local restauranteur, Joey Stevens who owns Copper Still Grill in Monrovia, was about to set up his outdoor dining again when the news came in late Friday. “I’m amazed … It doesn’t make any sense as now people will be forced into homes to watch the Super Bowl which obviously could contribute to more COVID-19 transmissions.,” Stevens said. “The county health department’s leader, Barbara Ferrer, is not a medical doctor and I feel she’s totally unqualified for the job.” Ferrer received her Ph.D. in social welfare from Brandeis University, a Master of Arts in public health from Boston University, a Master of Arts in education from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a Bachelor of Arts in community studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

By dining outside with tables carefully spaced apart, Stevens believes that watching the game outdoors is far safer than being cramped in someone’s living room for the big game. “This latest ban on TV’s is an added blow to the already battered and beleaguered restaurant business. We’re barely surviving,” Stevens emphatically said.

L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said during a press briefing Friday that it’s common for fans to be “yelling, shouting, screaming during the excitement of a game.” This would further spread the virus through droplets of saliva and particles.

“There is no such thing as no risk at a restaurant or any other setting where people from different households are together,” he said.

Paul Little, CEO of Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, thinks the ban on televisions during outdoor dining is counterproductive. “Honestly, I think it will have the opposite effect the experts desire. Rather than have a socially distanced outdoor space to watch the game from, people will have to watch it indoors,” he said. “I am concerned that they will also be inviting friends and family members from outside their households to join them and we will see another spike in cases like that we experienced after the Lakers and Dodgers won their championship games.”

Despite opposition and resistance from some, “there is increasing evidence that California’s latest stay-at-home order, including a ban on outdoor dining, worked to turn around a deadly surge of the coronavirus,” according to Monday’s Los Angeles Times.

“In Los Angeles County, the stay-at-home orders and a ban on outdoor dining were followed by a drop in the transmission rate — a measure known as “R” that reflects how many people a sick person on average infects — from 1.2 before the orders to 0.85 by early January. Anything above 1.0 means an outbreak will grow exponentially,” write Soumya Karlamangla and Rong-Gong Lin II.

“Scientists say that they can’t tease out which part of the order was most effective in turning the tide, but several leading public health experts interviewed by The Times agreed that the outdoor dining ban probably played a key role,” the L.A. Times concluded.

COVID-19 concerns are tackling in-person Super Bowl party plans this year, according to a new national survey of 1,000 U.S. adults. Half of the respondents said they plan to spend the big game with just their immediate household this year. Social distancing is spurring virtual Super Bowl parties, which 13% of those surveyed said they will be attending.

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