Orange County Supervisors are becoming increasingly divided on how to approach reopening the economy, as some Supervisors have simply said they want the county to ignore state-mandated businesses closures, while others said it’s the County’s responsibility to follow the state. 

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“We need to get people back to work, but we have to observe the governor’s order,” Supervisor Doug Chaffee said in an interview. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a series of orders beginning March 19 directing people to stay home to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus so hospitals don’t get flooded with virus patients. The orders also shut down scores of non-essential businesses like bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, sports arenas, hair salons and many non-food retailers. 

Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner have been pushing back on the order since Newsom did a “hard close” on OC beaches last week, which kicked off a wave of protests around the county. 

The virus has killed 65 people out of 3,004 confirmed cases, according to updated OC numbers released Wednesday. There were also 192 people hospitalized, including 73 in intensive care units. So far, 40,707 tests have been conducted in the county that’s home to over 3.1 million people. 

At the heart of the business shutdown enforcement question is Nomad’s Canteen in San Clemente, which opened its doors for sit-down dining and bar service over last weekend. News reports showed nearly everyone didn’t wear a mask and the restaurant didn’t implement the CDC’s recommended six-foot physical distancing guidelines.

At a Monday news conference, Wagner indicated the County won’t enforce the business closure orders.

He pointed to guidelines adopted by the board last Tuesday. 

“I read the stories about the county attempting to enforce the state’s orders against Nomads Cantina and issue a citation. That was, to my mind, directly contradictory to the board’s expressed statements that our business guidelines stand for themselves, and adherence to the business guidelines will result in the county taking a hands-off approach,” Wagner said Monday. 

But the guidelines also state businesses must follow state and county health orders. 

“The guidelines we put out clearly say they are subject to the governor’s orders and health care directives — and that needs to be observed,” Chaffee said. 

No other County Supervisors returned calls for comment. County officials also didn’t respond to questions about enforcement.   

Steel and Wagner, in a joint Monday statement, said Nomad’s shouldn’t be fined or shut down. 

“[OC Health Care Agency] threatened the owner with permit suspension, in complete contradiction to the Board of Supervisors’ Guidelines passed unanimously last week. We have worked with HCA leadership about this unfortunate unilateral department action. We understand that HCA will be promptly rescinding all threats and will take no enforcement action against Nomads as long as it continues to comply with Orange County’s Guidelines,” reads the statement. 

Chaffee criticized the way that was handled. 

“The whole way that that unfolded is very unfortunate. That particular restaurant is in Lisa Bartlett’s district, not in Don Wagner’s district. That issue should’ve gone to her first,” he said.  

He also said Steel and Wagner’s handling of the situation could negatively impact county employees. 

“It puts an awkward chilling effect on employees when a supervisor criticizes them or tells them to stop doing things. That’s unfortunate. I believe we need to observe the guidelines. I wish I could change some of them … I wish I could get things open,” Chaffee said. 

Supervisor Andrew Do seemingly criticized Wagner and Steel during Tuesday’s meeting, although he didn’t name them. 

“The view that somehow the law is only legitimate if it agrees with our political view has a corrosive effect on democracy,” Do said. “I for one will not be a part of that. So in my mind, there is no ambiguity as to the strength and the legitimacy of the governor’s power. We must follow state law and I will do so until a court tells me otherwise.”

Do asked OC Public Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick if the orders will be enforced on non-essential businesses. 

“I do want to make it very clear that [the county’s] certified environmental health specialists – as well as my position – we generally follow state law. So if there is an order from a governor, an executive order, an order from the state health officer, yes we are expected to do that,” Quick said.

“Environmental health [division]  have the regulatory authority over restaurants and so forth. So if there is an order that is put in place that is staying that restaurants have to operate at a certain capacity, it would be expected that our environmental health specialists would act on that,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Newsom is expected to ease some restrictions back Friday to allow for some retail and manufacturing sectors to reopen. He’s been urging “curb-side pickup” for retailers and said manufacturing businesses can reopen if they’re able to implement the six-foot physical distancing guidelines and other health protocols. 

The closures have hit Californians hard.

More than 4 million people have applied for unemployment insurance and the state’s paid out nearly $11 billion in unemployment claims, Newsom said at a Wednesday news conference. 

“You’ll see these numbers translate into unemployment rates soon,” Newson said. “That will be rather jaw dropping.” 

A report from the Economic Roundtable released last month found 43 percent of California’s workers face a high risk of unemployment stemming from the stay home orders. 

The report found scores of blue collar workers are facing higher unemployment prospects: 70 percent of construction workers, nearly 70 percent of retail employees, 56 percent of mining and oil workers, 56 percent of temp agency jobs and 55 percent of warehouse and transportation employees. 

“In summary, 43 percent of California workers have a high risk of unemployment. The burden of unemployment is unequally distributed. It rests most heavily on young adults, Latinos, and restaurant, hotel, personal care, and janitorial workers,” states the report. 

Chaffee said Wagner and Steel’s pushback might hamper OC’s efforts to reopen the economy.

“I don’t think it has been helpful and I look at it as more longer term issues. Orange county has kind of been looked at as a redneck county for some time … we’ve been trying to work past that,” he said. 

“We need Sacramento’s help and we need doors open up there. The big issue is the county’s a donor county — we give Sacramento more [in taxes] than we get back. And I’d sure like to change that around,” Chaffee said. “But as long as we’re an agitator, it’s hard to get the door open.” 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:

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

Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at or on Twitter @sonyanews.

Reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story. You can reach him at

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