Pictured: Expanded outdoor dining area at Fluid State on Main St. in downtown Ventura on June 20, 2020. Photo by Kimberly Rivers. 

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

With high winds, cold temperatures and rain in the forecast, restaurants in Ventura County are finally given the green light to reopen outdoor dining areas, effective immediately. Today, Monday, Jan. 25, Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the regional order that forced restaurants to close all onsite dining last month. 

During the press conference, Newsom cited data projecting intensive care unit availability rates in four weeks at over 15% for all of the five regions in the state, which met the threshold to lift the state’s stay-at-home order put in place on Dec. 3 2020. 

Ventura County is still in the most restrictive purple tier in the state’s plan for reopening, but that tier allows for restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms to open outdoor seating areas with some modifications. Bars, breweries and distilleries are still prohibited from having any onsite seating areas open. Hair salons and personal care businesses may open indoor operations with some restrictions. 

Restaurants offering outdoor dining must also follow certain restrictions, including only allowing dining members of the same household to dine at the same table; a single sitting may last a maximum of 1 ½ hours (90 minutes) and onsite dining must end at 11 p.m.. Takeout or delivery may be offered as long as the restaurant’s permit allows. 

Casa Bella, in downtown Ventura on Main Street, announced on Instagram that it would be opening its patio that  night and started taking reservations right away. 

Jojo Ramirez, co-owner of Capriccio, also on Main Street, said he’s moving slower to reopen the patio, and that he needs to rehire some staff. Ramirez and other restaurant owners in the area recently expressed frustration with the state’s handling of which business could operate.

“[Newsom] really needed to target where exactly the spread was coming from,” said Ramirez, adding that finding out the state wasn’t releasing all the data it had added to the frustration. “I don’t think he did his homework right… instead he went on an assumption…He should have let the doctors do their job and he hasn’t.” Ramirez said it’s clear the virus was not spreading at restaurants, but they were forced to close anyway and he said it’s “sad some businesses have closed” forever. 

Ramirez credits his loyal customers for keeping Capriccio going. “Without them we couldn’t have stayed open…I’m slowly gathering everything together” to open, and he’s looking at this “patio situation” in light of the inclement weather. 

Newsom dismissed claims that lifting the order was politically motivated as “utter nonsense” and cited data that drove the decision. 

In December, the state reported that any of the five regions in the state would be subject to the stay-at-home order if the ICU capacity for the region fell below 15%. To be released from the order’s restrictions, a region would have to have a projected four-week ICU capacity at or above 15%. On Monday, Newsom said the projected ICU capacity for Southern California, looking four weeks ahead to Feb. 21, is at 33.3%. That number is based on four data variables: estimated ICU capacity, current community transition rates, current regional case rates, and the percentage of cases being admitted to the ICU in the area. 

In a written statement responding to the state’s announcement, Rigoberto Vargas, director of Ventura County Public Health, encouraged residents to continue to limit gathering with anyone outside their household, wear masks, wash their hands and practice physical distancing.

The purple tier allows outdoor operations at the following businesses with various restrictions: restaurants, gyms and fitness centers (12 feet social distancing required), places of worship, playgrounds and recreational facilities, family entertainment centers (e.g. bowling alleys, miniature golf, batting cages, kart racing, and arcades), movie theaters, museums, zoos, aquariums, wineries, cardrooms, satellite wagering. Bars, pubs, brewpubs and breweries may operate outdoors if they are offering sit-down, outdoor meals. 

Purple tier also allows indoor operations with restrictions at hair salons and barber shops, libraries, nail salons, personal care services and professional sports.

Only the Dec. 3, 2020 stay-at-home order is lifted. Other state orders are still in effect including the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, Hospital Surge Public Health Order and the March 2020 order that restricts travel to essential only and encourages all residents to remain at home unless they must go out for essential activities. 

California’s COVID website: covid19.ca.gov 

Blueprint for a Safer Economy, Aug. 28, 2020: covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/

Hospital Surge Public Health Order, Jan. 15, 2021 update: www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Amendment-to-the-Order-of-the-State-Public-Health-Officer-Hospital-Surge-1-15-2020.aspx 

Stay Home Order, March 19, 2020: covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/#stay-home-order