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For small business owners, the California lockdown is complicated

California’s businesses are facing one of the strictest lockdowns in the United States. During the most recent surge of COVID-19, more restaurants and small businesses continue to suffer as big businesses, such as Amazon and Walmart, continue to thrive. Following the latest California lockdown orders, small business owners continue to lay off employees, close their doors, and fear for the future.

Most recently, Governor Gavin Newsom banned outdoor dining in the state. The governor made the call after he attended a birthday dinner. He was eating out at one of the most expensive restaurants in the state. Newsom said he ate outside, but photos revealed he ate inside. 

In addition to Newsom, LA County Supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, dined at a Santa Monica restaurant only hours after voting to close down outdoor dining. Several of the state’s representative’s have set a bad image closing down businesses they’ve attended. Not long after Newsom and Kuehl went out to dinner, they closed all indoor and outdoor dining for three weeks. 

The Surge in California 

Los Angeles and the rest of California are seeing record COVID-19 numbers. ICU beds are running out. The pandemic has only worsened since Thanksgiving. Over 27,000 cases were reported the other day. So far, there have been 458,000 cases reported and nearly 8,000 deaths in Los Angeles County alone. In the state of California, there are over 1.4 million cases and 285,000 cases. California is in a terrible state, and the FDA have yet to approve the COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Threat of Dining During the California Lockdown

According to a study from the Center of Disease Control, 10 facilities found that patients with COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten at a restaurant. The contributing factor is outdoor dining, especially indoor dining. It is one of the few businesses customers can have their masks off and are more than likely meeting with people outside of their households. “I think one of the sad realities is that we’ve never seen a rate of increase as high as we’ve just seen,” said Los Angeles’ County’s health director Barbara Ferrer. “We know places where people are eating are places where transmission is easiest, and most likely.”

Recently, 726 restaurants were inspected for whether they were complying with guidelines and social distancing in California. 81% of restaurants followed the rules. Even though the vast majority of restaurants followed the rules, the businesses failing to do so are the problem. “Almost 20 percent of restaurants were not in compliance with social distancing mandates,” Ferrerr added. “In LA County, that’s more than 6,000 sites, which could easily translate to more than 300,000 people at increased risk of exposure if each of those sites had 50 people in them.” According to Ferrerr’s health department, 10-15% of COVID-19 cases came from restaurants. However, those numbers were based on 280,000 positive cases of COVID-19, not the 1.4 million of confirmed cases. 

Even several California officials have called out the decision to close more restaurants, though, and only allowing take-out during the holidays. Los Angeles county supervisor, Janice Hahn, posted the question, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to target restaurants not following the rules?” Ferrerr disagreed. “There are 31,000 restaurants in LA County,” she explained, “and our team, as hard as they’re working, they get to about 300 a week… There may be many other places that are not in compliance.”

Still, restaurant owners have argued over the summer when the numbers were decreasing, their patios were open for dining. Business owners and even state health officials point to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and private gatherings as the reasons for the surge. Nobody can argue with Ferrerr’s reasoning, though. “I don’t think there’s any debate that, where people are in close proximity with other people not in their household, not wearing a mask and mingling for extended periods of time talking, singing, sharing — there’s an increased risk of transmission,” she added.

How Many Businesses Impacted 

With the latest three-week California lockdown, tens of thousands of jobs are in jeopardy. The year keeps getting worse after well over 30% of California restaurants have closed their doors for good. Prior to the Pandemic, 1.4 million in California worked in the restaurant Industry. 900,000 to 1 million people lost their jobs. 60% of California restaurants are owned by people of color, and half are owned or partly owned by women, too. 

Back in August, the California Restaurant Association pleaded with the state of California for help. “Restaurants cannot sustain themselves or their employees when they operate with strict capacity limits, which means the state should long ago have crafted a comprehensive aid package to help these small businesses hibernate,” said California Restaurant Association President and CEO, Jot Condie. “This is what we had repeatedly urged the Newsom administration to do – make state help available to restaurants so that, once the pandemic is behind us, the families who own these businesses could go back, open the doors and turn the lights on again. Instead, they are closing for good, by the thousands.”

Recently, one restaurant owner’s video calling out the state’s inconsistencies in COVID-19 protocols went viral. The owner of the tasty Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, Angela Marsden, showed her small outdoor patio, and then she showed the long row of tents for a film crew right next door. Marsden had to close her business again after spending over $80,000 or COVID-19 precautions, while a film crew set up to go to work. 

For months, crew members and actors have been testing positive for COVID-19, too. “Everything I own is being taken away from me and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio,” Marsden said in the video.”They have not given us money and they have shut us down. We cannot survive. My staff cannot survive. The day they come to get their last paycheck, you punch me in the face and say that this is dangerous. Right here is dangerous. But just walk over there and eat.” Marsden set up a Go Fund Me page that has raised over $176, 000.

Some restaurants across California are defying the orders. As one example, Diego Rose, who’s the owner of Marla’s Cocina and Catina in Beaumont, is keeping business open. “It’s going to be business as usual for us, we’ve always been afforded the luxury to have the space to socially distance people,” Rose said. “A lot of our mom and pop shops have spent thousands and thousands of dollars to move their inside to outside, and have three walls and a tent, have people outside, and as you can tell in this wind, they’ve lost it all.” The state of California has fined Diego Rose and several other restaurants not following orders. The fines cost thousands of dollars. 

How the Government is Helping 

Mayor Eric Garcetti responded to Marsden’s video. “My heart goes out to Ms. Marsden and the workers at the Pineapple Hill Saloon who have to comply with state and county public health restrictions that close outdoor dining,” he said. “No one likes these restrictions, but I do support them as our hospital ICU beds fill to capacity and cases have increased by 500%. We must stop this virus before it kills thousands of more Angelenos.”

There is the Secure Emergency Relief for Vulnerable Employees, or SERVE, but it won’t do enough for workers. It provides a one-time $800 stipend to people working in the restaurant industry. December 11th is the deadline for applicants, who must live in Los Angeles. Not all applicants will receive assistantce, only those chosen at random. It’s not nearly enough, according to critics.

In addition to SERVE, Governor Gavin Newsom announced $500 million in relief for small businesses. Up to $25,000 can go to small businesses around the beginning of 2021. Newsom also opened up the California Rebuilding Fun, which will provide an additional $25 million to help small businesses. Californians continue to wait for those funds as more businesses, especially owned by people of color, continue to close. 

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