As Orange County residents get ready to hunker down in their homes in an effort to help curb the spread of the novel Coronavirus, questions have emerged about how law enforcement will handle enforcement of the order prohibiting people to gather at bars, nightclubs and other businesses.

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OC Sheriff spokeswoman Carrie Braun said the department is forming a plan to address the enforcement questions, which will focus on education and compliance.  

“We are receiving this information in real time, just as the public is, and we will be actively working with our patrol operations deputies to ensure that they have the information and do everything they can to seek voluntary compliance from the community,” Braun said within the hour of the order being issued. 

Earlier Tuesday, OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer told county supervisors that he’s concerned over public perception of the enforcement of county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick’s Tuesday order barring all public and private gatherings and shutting down nightclubs, bars and other businesses where people would gather.

(Click here to read Quick’s order

“I am incredibly uncomfortable of what that might do to businesses and the message it sends to the county,” Spitzer said at Tuesday’s emergency meeting. ”Are we going to rush in with Billy Clubs and riot gear? Am i going to be prosecuting 30 people in the next two days for violating — I don’t want to see that happen.” 

Supervisor Andrew Do objected to Spitzer’s concerns. 

“For you to say that you don’t want to be prosecuting people who are willfully defying the order, I don’t understand. What are you saying?” Do said. 

Spitzer replied, “The question is: is that where we want to go as a county … one of the major conversations the other 57 district attorneys are discussing is how do we want to enforce those violations. I think it really needs to be a very, very important conversation for our county before we prosecute our citizens who may have stayed at a bar.”

Spitzer said authorities can pull business permits or issue fines as penalties. Do said Tuesday’s meeting wasn’t the time or place to talk about those concerns. 

While residents aren’t mandated to stay home, Quick’s order is a “strong recommendation” people stay home in an effort to help curb the spread. Employers are also encouraged to have their employees work from home, if possible. 

The order also allows “essential businesses” to remain open, like grocery stores, convenience stores, plumbers, electricians, companies, laundromats, banks, gas stations, automobile repair shops, schools, grocery delivery services, transportation businesses, and childcare businesses that serve employees who are exempted from the order. 

The virus has caused OC Sheriff Don Barnes to close the department lobbies in its headquarters and substations Tuesday morning. He also suspended all volunteer programs and ride-alongs. Jailhouse visitation has also been suspended and inmates are allowed two, five-minute calls a week for free. Training at the regional training academy has also been suspended. 

As of Tuesday morning, there’s 22 confirmed cases of the virus in the county. But, the OC Healthcare Agency only has about 1,100 testing kits. Officials at Tuesday’s public meeting of the OC Board of Supervisors said private laboratories are developing their own virus testing kits, but didn’t know when the kits would be available. 

“I expect the number to go up as testing increases,” said Healthcare Agency Director Richard Sanchez. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 4,226 confirmed cases nationwide and 75 deaths from the virus, as of Tuesday afternoon.  

Meanwhile, the OC Superior Court is closed to the public until at least next Friday, according to a Monday news release

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye signed an emergency order Monday, putting nearly everything in the OC court system on hold

Court employees will still be working, but any current case deadlines during the shutdown will be treated as a public holiday in order to avoid any penalties. 

“Jurors who have been summoned to appear during this time period are not required to appear for juror duty. Jurors who are currently impaneled and sitting in a trial should contact their courtrooms for further instructions,” reads the release. 

And cities are ramping up efforts to help curb the spread of the virus, which the World Health Organization classified as a pandemic earlier last week. 

Anaheim became the first city to close its city hall to the public beginning Tuesday and Fullerton may be following suit after City Manager Ken Domer signed a state of emergency proclamation Monday.

Although city halls throughout the county remain open, numerous city officials have said the situation is fluid and changes could happen by the hour.   

Scores of public libraries have closed, including the OC Public Libraries. And waves of schools throughout OC closed, following an emergency meeting with all 27 school district superintendents last Friday. 

Brea City Manager Bill Gallardo also declared a state of emergency Monday and the City Council is expected to ratify it at its special meeting Thursday. 

Many other cities like Santa Ana, Lake Forest, Anaheim and Irvine have closed down community centers, senior centers and delayed city-sponsored events. 

Meals on Wheels, a program to feed senior citizens, will continue feeding the elderly in all the cities that have closed senior centers. 

Fullerton and Santa Ana city councils meet Tuesday and, as noted in various news releases and city statements, the meetings will be open to residents and adhere to the six-foot separation rule. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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