Escondido allows restaurants to expand outdoor dining

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ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Starting Friday, restaurants in Escondido can expand outdoor seating in a bid to remain open after another round of COVID-19 shutdowns.

The city is allowing restaurants to temporarily expand outdoor seating after San Diego County public health officials announced new restrictions on dine-in restaurants following a recent local spike in coronavirus cases. This week, city crews set up cones along Grand Avenue from Maple to Juniper streets to accommodate the additional seating, blocking one lane of traffic in each direction.

Although it potentially could slow traffic along Grand Avenue, local restaurant workers say they think the change will help their businesses boom in the interim.

“It gives our customers and opportunity to come and still enjoy our food and the ambiance of getting out of the house every now and again,” said James Vonseigel, a waiter at Dominic’s Italian Gourmet.

San Diego County was placed on a state monitoring late last week, a decision which the county said impacts dine-in restaurants as well as breweries, wineries, movie theaters, museums and zoos, among others. Those new restrictions went into effect on Wednesday.

Restrictions are expected to last at least three weeks, a mandate from the state which officials believe can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

As of this week, 29 counties — about half of the state’s total counties, including much of Southern California — landed on the monitoring list, now being watched for worsening health trends.

“My immediate thought was, ‘Well, we have a small patio; what are we going to do?'” Vonseigel said. “But I think with this, it kind of gives us the opportunity to still give 100% to our customers.”

The Downtown Business Association worked with the city to streamline the permitting process. It also committed $10,000 to provide to restaurants shade coverings, tables and chairs.

The city also is providing temporary barriers to protect customers from cars while they’re eating.

“Anything that we can do to keep these businesses around is really important,” customer Jessica Johnson said.

More than 75% of community outbreaks have been tied to bars and restaurants, according to the county. On Friday, the county reported three new outbreaks with one tied to a restaurant and the others to a business and health care setting, respectively.

But workers in Escondido hope the new dining options keep shops open and customers safe.

“It’s really sad, but then also the virus is scary so I think (it’s about) just trying to find a happy medium,” Johnson said.

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