All public and private gatherings in Orange County will be prohibited under an emergency health order county officials said they plan to issue later Tuesday to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Bars and in-person dining at restaurants also are soon expected close to customers until further notice, starting at a time that has not yet been announced. It appeared that take-out and delivery of food would be allowed to continue, and officials emphasized that grocery stores will continue to remain open as the virus spreads, because food is essential for the public.
The move is modeled on moves by seven Bay Area counties, whose orders went into effect at midnight after they were issued. The Bay Area has had significantly more coronavirus cases than OC, though the number of known cases in OC has been ticking up – to 22 as of Tuesday morning – as more testing is performed.
Orange County’s upcoming order, which was discussed publicly at a morning Board of Supervisors meeting, could be issued as soon as later this morning.
It wasn’t immediately clear if, or when, Orange County may order residents to stay at home except for essential trips like getting groceries and medicine, like the Bay Area counties did. Such a move was not discussed publicly at Tuesday’s meeting.
But the measures locally in OC have been moving closer towards restricting public gatherings in the way the Bay Area counties have.
The dramatic move to limit contact between people is intended to dramatically limit the spread of coronavirus, which health experts have warned could kill up to 2 million Americans if measures such as social distancing are not put into effect.
The order is slated to be issued later on Tuesday by Dr. Nichole Quick, the county’s health officer, who has support from top county officials in issuing the order.
State and local officials said they’re hoping the public will voluntarily comply with the health order. It can be enforced civilly and criminally, but officials said they hope for cooperation.
Quick also urged the public to stay in contact with people currently being isolated, saying it was important to maintain social contact. Health officials at the federal, state and local level have urged the public to keep six foot separation from others as much as possible.
After days of concern about empty shelves at certain grocery stores, health officials said Tuesday the food supply chain is ultimately fine and called on the public to not buy more than necessary.
“Panic buying should stop. The food chain is good. There’s no shortage,” said Richard Sanchez, the county’s health director.
There’s temporary shortages at stores, but “what we’re hearing is, the supply chain is not the issue,” said county CEO Frank Kim.
They also said they fully expect grocery stores to stay open. Grocery stores have remained open in countries in far worse stages of coronavirus outbreaks
“I do not believe [grocery stores will close], because people need food. That’s an essential,” Sanchez said.
Several county supervisors, such as Supervisor Don Wagner, publicly questioned Tuesday morning whether Quick should issue such a health order, pointing to the concerns it will generate.
Wagner questioned Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent direction, criticizing the state capital saying, “they make it up as they go along in Sacramento.”
Richard Sanchez, director of the Orange County’s public health agency, responded by emphasizing health officials know that key action now is essential to limiting community spread of the virus.
This is a breaking story. Check back later for updates.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.