As the number of new COVID-19 cases spikes across the country, states and cities are weighing whether to impose new rounds of safety restrictions aimed at slowing the spread. Amid the “third wave” of the pandemic, California has imposed the biggest restrictions yet on public life.
Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced that 85% of the state’s population will now be under a strict stay-at-home order until Christmas. The policy will affect around 33 million people, including many business owners who have been struggling to stay afloat since March.
California is considered the sixth largest economy in the world, and some are saying these restrictions will do lasting damage to the state’s finances and entrepreneurs who have been working months to comply with the latest regulations. As restaurants have been forced to close their doors, businesses like film and TV production continue to operate across the state, leading to a new debate over what kinds of businesses should be considered “essential” in the age of COVID-19.
New Safety Restrictions in CA
Gov. Newsom announced the latest restrictions after the state fell below a critical threshold. ICUs in two regions fell below a capacity rate of 15%, a stark warning sign that the state is running out of resources to care for the rising number of coronavirus patients.
Healthcare workers and facilities are relieved that local leaders are trying to stop the spread.
“Unlike previous surges, every hospital in California is under stress. There is no place to transfer people if we run out of beds,” said San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón. “Three-quarters of the state’s hospital beds are currently full.”
Debating the Term “Essential”
While these restrictions are meant to reduce the number of new infections, small business owners are feeling the heat. They have had a long year of trying to comply with the latest rules and regulations, only to have them change on a dime.
That’s certainly the case for Angela Marsden, the owner of Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill in the Los Angeles area. She’s been working for months rearranging her restaurant so that it would adhere to the latest regulations.
However, she says the latest round of restrictions, which restrict all forms of in-person dining, could put her out of business by the spring.
She believes city and county officials are unfairly targeting restaurants amid the ongoing pandemic.
Adding to her anger and frustration, she recently watched a movie crew set up an outdoor dining area for crew members right across the street from her restaurant.
“Tell me that this is dangerous,” Marsden told a local news crew as she pointed to her outdoor dining set-up. “But next to me is a slap in my face,” she added as the camera follows over to the next parking lot where she points to a near-identical outdoor eating area reserved for the movie shoot.
“Everything I own is being taken away from me and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio.”
Movie and TV productions are considered “essential” in L.A. County. Crew members are typically tested regularly, if not every day, which helps them prevent future outbreaks.
However, Marsden isn’t having it.
“You can’t eat here, but you can walk in the same parking lot 15 feet and you can eat alfresco on a movie set because I guess COVID doesn’t go there, right?” Marsden said.
She spent $80,000 redesigning the space inside her restaurant to limit the chances of guests spreading the coronavirus. The restaurant is considered a staple of the local community, but it might not be around for much longer.
“If I’m not open by February, I will no longer be here,” Marsden said. “My restaurant can’t open for to-go, what little money we have I have to try to hold on to for the hopes that we’ll get to go to outdoor dining again, which is why I’m fighting so hard to get it open again.”
She’s planning on holding an event in the city on Saturday to protest the latest restrictions.
A judge recently ruled that the state must present clear evidence that in-person dining poses a direct threat to the public. If the state fails to come up with proof, the judge may decide to strike down the order.
It’s clear that California is trying to protect residents from the virus, but businesses like Marden’s are being pushed to the breaking point. Indoor and even outdoor dining can be dangerous in some situations, especially when there are few safety precautions in place. However, Marsden has gone to great lengths to avoid such risks. It’s not clear when or if she’ll be able to reopen. Her livelihood may be another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.