The din in the small space is destined to get louder when capacity is allowed to double to 50% as Los Angeles and San Francisco lead the way toward a broader reopening of California businesses. “It felt like the winery had come alive again,” Luftig Viste said Sunday, the day after it reopened after being closed all but two weeks over the past 13 months.
On Tuesday, they became the first major urban areas in California to meet infection thresholds to move into the least-restrictive tier for reopening, allowing indoor bars to welcome people again, larger crowds to cheer on Major League Baseball’s Dodgers and Giants, and expanded capacity at restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, gyms and other establishments. While San Francisco largely beat the coronavirus by avoiding it, Los Angeles was nearly beaten by it during the winter surge. At its worst point, more than 500 people a day were dying in California and hospitals in the LA area could barely treat the overwhelming influx of patients.
The two cities have weathered the pandemic differently but are emerging at the same time after a statewide shutdown in March 2020 emptied streets, shuttered shops and restaurants, and darkened office buildings. San Francisco reached the least-restrictive tier for a brief period in October, the only urban area to do so, before an alarming surge in cases forced a retreat. LA never emerged from the most restrictive tier until March.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for LA considering it was ground zero for infections and deaths when California was the nation’s epicenter of the virus outbreak just a few months ago. A total of seven of the state’s 58 counties are now in the so-called yellow tier, which is the final stage of a phased reopening plan before a projected return to business as usual June 15. The five other counties are all remote areas of Northern California.
As spring warms up, freeways are becoming congested, workers are returning to offices, and people are heading to restaurants and breweries. Now, California has the lowest infection rate in the country. Los Angeles County, which is home to a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million people and has endured a disproportionate number of the state’s 60,000 deaths, didn’t record a single COVID-19 death Sunday or Monday.
“It feels like almost a duty to be engaged with the city,” Sammons said. “We have to bring LA back to life.” Chris Sammons said he felt a civic obligation to get out and support businesses. On Sunday in downtown LA’s Arts District, drivers circled the block looking for parking spaces. Diners filled the sidewalk tables of Wurstküche, eating sausages and drinking Belgian and German beer. A line of people waiting for a table at Angel City Brewery extended down the street.
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