How to Undermine Compliance with COVID-19 Restrictions

On December 5, 2020, bar owner Angela Marsden went viral with her complaint about the hypocrisy of Los Angeles’ outdoor dining restrictions. In the video, Marsden complains that a city-wide order shut down her restaurant’s outdoor dining, but the city approved outdoor dining facilities to be set up across the street for a movie production.

On December 8, 2020, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant tentatively blocked LA’s outdoor dining ban, ruling that it was not based on any evidence.

The Restaurant Closure Order is an abuse of the Department’s emergency powers, is not grounded in science, evidence, or logic, and should be adjudicated to be unenforceable as a matter of law.

What makes this entire episode even more disturbing is the response from Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services Agency Secretary. I would have thought that Ghaly might want to provide evidence or a credible explanation of why the outdoor dining ban was necessary. Instead, Ghaly largely conceded that the outdoor dining ban is largely COVID-19 theater.

The decision to include among other sectors outdoor dining and limiting that — turning to restaurants to deliver and provide takeout options instead — really has to do with the goal of trying to keep people at home, not a comment on the relative safety of outdoor dining.

This is reminiscent of Anthony Fauci’s implication that he initially opposed mask usage, not because of any specific evidence that masks were ineffective, but rather as an expediency to deter the public from buying N95 masks, thereby reducing the supply of masks avaialable to health care workers.

These sorts of “good lies” and half-truths have the main effect of undermining support for COVID-19 restrictions by people. When people realize the ban on outdoor dining has almost nothing to do with outdoor dining safety, they will inevitably begin to wonder whether the ban on indoor dining has anything to do with indoor dining safety.

Ghaly and those like him risk undermining what little credibility government messages about COVID-19 restrictions have left. What they are doing is not as bad as Donald Trump’s dismissals of the virus as no worse than the flu, but they are cut from the same cloth.