About 1,000 Southern California restaurants that recently reopened for dining are operating in violation of new health department rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 among customers and workers.
"We did have our teams out this weekend. They visited 2,000 restaurants and they found that 50% of the restaurants were still not in compliance," said Barbara Ferrer, the director of the LA County Public Health Department, in response to questions from the NBC4 I-Team.
The I-Team also learned of COVID-19 outbreaks at three LA-area restaurants, where three or more employees recently tested positive.
At Panda Express at 524 E. Washington Blvd., one employee tested positive May 27. The company told NBCLA it immediately conducted "a special deep cleaning of the restaurant and quarantining all personnel that were in contact" with the employee. But on June 8, three more employees at the location tested positive, the company says.
There was also an outbreak at McDonald's at 401 E. Manchester in Inglewood, where three employees have tested positive, and four employees tested positive at McDonald's at 2224 North Figueroa in LA.
To prevent further spread of COVID-19 among workers and among customers, LA County is requiring restaurants to follow nine pages of new rules, including requiring customers to wear face masks when they are not eating and spacing tables at least six feet apart.
At the Urth Caffe on Melrose, the I-Team observed several tables that appeared to be less than six feet apart. The manager told NBC4 some customers move the tables closer themselves.
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The LA Public Health Department says the 1,000 restaurants that were found not in compliance with the new rules this past weekend, will be reinspected. If they're still not in compliance, the county health director says she has the power to shut them down.
And the county wants people to tell them about any place that might be violating the safety rules.
"I urge people to contact us at public health, particularly if you are employees and you feel like something hasn't been reported to us," said Ferrer.
Here's Panda Express' full statement:
"At Panda Express, we take the health and safety of our guests and associates extremely seriously. While the state has updated its mandates for restaurants, we continue to adhere to the highest standards that follow current applicable health guidelines--serving Los Angeles guests via contactless service with no dine-in option yet. We have established strict cleaning and safety protocols consistent with state and local requirements, including requiring both guests and associates to wear face masks at all times and implementing a social distancing policy. As of this update, we have conducted our own review of this situation, and can confirm we have not violated any public health and government guidance and have taken all necessary precautions to promote safety in our restaurants."
This story has been updated to include Panda Express' full statement.