LA County reopens for business; owners, employees cautiously optimistic as COVID-19 restrictions largely end – Pasadena Star News


Life began returning, for the most part, to pre-pandemic normalcy in Los Angeles County and across California Tuesday, June 15 — with folks feeling a mix of apprehension and excitement about it.

All but a few of the state’s coronavirus-induced restrictions, which have limited indoor capacity in businesses and required residents to wear masks, lifted Tuesday, June 15, and elected officials, business owners and other folks celebrated the occasion.

At the iconic Langer’s Deli, for example, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer joined Norm and Jeannette Langer in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the return of in-person dining with no capacity limits.

And Gov. Gavin Newsom, who appeared at Universal Studios on Tuesday morning, spoke about what the reopening means for the state.

“Today, we celebrate the incredible strength and resilience of Californians – from our heroic health care workers to essential workers across the board to everyday Californians from all walks of life,” he said, “who have supported each other through hardship and heartache over the past year, making sacrifices to save countless lives and enable us to turn the page on this pandemic.”

Specifically, as of Tuesday, capacity restrictions have vanished, meaning amusement parks, restaurants, bars, gyms, bowling alleys, skating rinks, convention centers and more can welcome the same number of customers inside as they did before the public-health crisis.

People who are fully vaccinated, meanwhile, can go maskless almost everywhere, with some notable exceptions being on public transit and in school buildings. Folks who have not been inoculated still must cover their faces indoors, but public officials have acknowledged that enforcing this requirement will largely rely on the honor system.

The major regulations that will remain in place, though, apply to schools and “mega-events,” which the state defines as events with either 5,000 attendees indoors or 10,000 outdoors. The state still “strongly recommends” proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for people who attend large outdoor events — and requires that documentation for guests of mass indoor events.

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated the state’s reopening at the team’s evening game against the Philadelphia Phillies, opening their iconic stadium in Chavez Ravine for full-capacity seating for the first time since the pandemic began.

In the third inning, with the temperature still hovering at 95, fans were still trickling in from jammed parking lots. Only about half appeared to be wearing masks.

Easing in

While the changes marked a major shift, some people and businesses are taking a slower approach to returning to normal.

Public and private entities alike can still decide on their own to require everyone to wear a mask; face coverings are still mandated for everyone in LA County courthouses, for example.

Even some fitness centers — among the facilities that faced the toughest restrictions, because of how heavy breathing while working out can contribute to the virus’s spread — still required face coverings on Tuesday. The policy disappointed some gym-goers.

Sean Aspinall, 26, from Redondo Beach, said he was bummed to find his Torrance LA Fitness still required masks Tuesday morning.

“I was looking forward to being able to work out and actually breathe today,” he said.

Elsewhere, though, some gym-goers kept their faces covered even if it wasn’t mandated.

Amie Gonzalez, at the 24 Hour Fitness in Downey, was among them.

“I’ll stop eventually,” she said. “I just don’t want to rush into it. Plus it keeps my face warm coming here in the morning cold.”

Most people working out at the 24 Hour Fitness Tuesday morning wore face coverings, whether on a treadmill or lifting weights. Some folks said they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t mind the masks; I’m just glad to be back inside,” said Pat Salgado. “I need that energy you get from a crowded gym.

“It’s not the same energy working out at home,” he added.

And even if customers choose to go maskless, some businesses will keep other health policies in place for the time being.

Down in Long Beach, The Stache Bar will still keep sanitizer out, some employees may keep wearing their masks, and the bar will also keep an eye on the number of customers, manager Denise Pla said. While The Stache won’t keep strict capacity limits, Pla said it’s likely the staff will, for now, try to keep things calmer than the standing-room-only crowds that were the norm before the virus hit.

“We’ll pack the bar,” she said, “but we’re still going to have someone kind of monitoring that, because I feel like it’s a drastic change if someone’s barely going out for the first time.”

At Breakfast Bar, also in Long Beach, most people still donned masks Tuesday morning, and owner Josh Beadel said he will keep the street patio, which opened during the pandemic to allow people to dine outdoors, for as long as possible — and will petition to make it permanent.

But Breakfast Bar did make one change on Tuesday.

“We’ve added our barstool seats back indoors,” Beadel said, “which our regular customers were really happy about.”

Mixed emotions

The decision to ease back into normalcy is rooted in mixed emotions for some.

“We’re kind of 50/50 — excited and a little apprehensive,” Pla, at The Stache, said. “Things have been changing so quickly, so we’ll get one statement, and then a week or two later we’ll hear something else about new rules.”

One question for Pla and her staff was whether the lack of restrictions is here to stay.

The LA County Department of Public Health did not directly respond to whether officials are concerned about another coronavirus surge after Tuesday and what that could mean for the reopenings. Rather, the department said in a statement that wearing a mask and getting inoculated if you are able are “the two most powerful tools” to protect those who are unvaccinated.

“As California reopens and lifts physical distancing requirements and capacity limits,” the department said, “the risk of COVID-19 is still present and increases, especially for those who are not fully vaccinated against the virus.”

But Pla still worried.

“How long is this going to last before everybody’s going to get pulled back again?” she said. “So it’s split between excited and a little nervous.”

Vivian Hernandez, a manager at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, said she also felt “leery.”

“We don’t know, when customers come in, whether they’re going to feel comfortable — or if they’ll come in at all,” she said. “We’re just like everybody else, wondering what’s going to happen.

“We’re happy that it’s over, but in the same sentence, I want to say I’m terrified it’s over,” Hernandez added. “So now, we’re back to normal. What does ‘normal’ mean? We have to learn what the new normal is.”

Between wildfires and the pandemic, residents haven’t gotten much of a chance to visit the famed Mount Wilson Observatory in quite a while.

As the iconic planetarium reopened Tuesday, a group of residents came with a present, a watercolor painted by local artist Keni “Arts” Davis that was inspired by a photograph taken by superintendent David Cendejas during the Bobcat Fire.

The painting depicts a group of firefighters making their way through smoke-filled skies across a bridge leading to the 100-inch telescope. The artists donated the painting on behalf of Altadena residents.

Temperatures rising close to triple digits, didn’t do much to put folks at the fire-prone destination at ease.

A somber milestone

Adding to the day’s significance, for many, were the memories of what’s been lost.

At the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles, Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis, other county officials and a group of frontline workers gathered to mark the occasion. While celebratory in nature, the event also struck a somber tone in remembrance of the more than 23,000 county residents who have died during the pandemic. A moment of silence was held in memory of the victims.

Solis pointed to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color.

“They have suffered from years of under-investment, lacking access to health care and living in polluted areas impacting their overall well-being, resulting in chronic conditions that made them even more vulnerable,” she said. “We owe it to those who lost and those who continue to suffer from these inequities and to commit to make it right. We can not go back to the way things were, simply put.”

And in Long Beach, Mayor Robert Garcia and the city’s Health Director Kelly Colopy spoke in Civic Center Plaza.

Garcia lamented the loss of more than 600,000 people in the U.S. to the virus, including his own mother and stepfather.

“My hope would be that we’ve learned from the pain that those families have gone through,” he said, “that we have to be better prepared for pandemics, that we have to listen to doctors and scientists, and that we have to lean in to doing the right thing.”

Still, he said, “today is one of the better days that I’ve felt in the last 14, 15 months.

“I feel like an enormous burden has been lifted off of the state and the city as it relates to this moment we’ve been really fighting to get toward,” Garcia added. “Personally, I’m just very grateful that the loss of life has been dramatically decreased and slowed down.”

A new beginning

Though plenty of people had ambivalent perspectives on this next phase — hopefully the end — of the public-health crisis, others were full-throated in their joy.

“It’s been torture,” Sandy Marchioli, owner of Godmother’s Saloon in San Pedro, said of the shutdown. “I kept wondering if everything I’d worked for was just going to be taken away.”

But now, she’s planning a “welcome back” celebration for the the iconic “five-star dive bar,” as it’s known, for this weekend, with the return of live music.

The bar nearly shuttered for good during the pandemic. The saloon, on West Seventh Street, has $50,000 in debt and faces a lawsuit from one of its liquor representatives, Marchioli said.

But now, the grand re-opening on Friday night, June 19, from 9 p.m. to midnight, marks a new beginning. The live music lineup includes performances by Deke Dickerson and the Whippersnappers.

“We’re very behind on all our bills, but I’m going to try my best,” she said. “People are in a great mood, happy to be back.”


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