OC Teams With Surrounding Counties to Push Gov. Newsom for Faster Reopening

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Downtown Santa Ana on March 18, 2020.

Orange County Supervisors are partnering with neighboring counties in an effort to push Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow the region to open more businesses than what’s currently allowed, like dine-in restaurants. 


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Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties are slated to send Newsom a letter about his strict benchmarks counties have to meet before allowing more businesses to reopen — beyond the small retail shops and some manufacturing he allowed to reopen last Friday. 

“I think a regional approach makes a lot of sense in putting together some realistic numbers and expectations we know our large counties can meet,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said during Tuesday’s board meeting. “Everything will be monitored very carefully … we’re not going to just continue moving forward and having a huge spike in COVID-19” 

Here’s a link to read the letter to Newsom

None of the four counties are able to meet the benchmarks in Newsom’s reopening plans and will petition him to lower some of the benchmarks. While the relaxed restrictions have allowed florists, books stores, toy stores, other retailers and the production and transportation industries behind them to open, it still leaves a host of businesses closed. 

Businesses like dine-in restaurants, night clubs, bars, concert halls, stadiums, convention halls and theme parks remain shutdown until Newsom relaxes more sections of the orders. 

If counties, like OC, want to open some restaurants and other businesses, they will have to show there isn’t more than one new virus case per 10,000 people for two weeks. And a minimum of 1.5 tests need to be conducted per 1,000 people daily.  

“These are the requirements that the big counties are never going to meet,” Bartlett said. 

County supervisors on Tuesday also approved initial plans to reopen public park lots at county parks, which had been closed and also discussed expanding testing efforts as well as establishing a $75 million small business fund for Orange County out of federal relief funds.

As of Tuesday, the virus has killed 77 people in OC, out of 3,602 confirmed cases, according to the County’s updated numbers. There were also 230 people hospitalized due to the virus, with 100 in intensive care units. Nearly 55,000 people have been tested for the virus, out of a population of over 3.1 million residents. 

Supervisor Andrew Do said he’s been getting many calls and comments over Newsom’s guidelines. 

“I get what a lot of us feel,” Do said. “I think most people feel that way. But I’m just trying to be fair in what we can operate in.”

Do said the County has to act within Newsom’s orders, even though Supervisors want more businesses to reopen because the virus hasn’t hit Orange County as hard as nearby counties. 

“I just want to make sure that’s clear,” Do said. 

Following the OC business reopening guidelines adopted by the board a couple weeks ago, questions about when businesses can reopen began emerging. Especially when Nomad’s Canteen opened its doors at the beginning of the month, raising a series of questions on which businesses can reopen and if county officials would enforce the guidelines. 

Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner issued a joint statement defending Nomad’s. 

“[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. 

Additionally, Wagner said, last Monday, that officials wouldn’t enforce the state orders on businesses who follow the County guidelines

The guidelines stipulate all businesses need to follow local and state health orders. 

And OC Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said she’s obligated to follow the state orders, at both last week’s board meeting and Tuesday’s board meeting. 

The two Supervisors have since backed off some of the resistance to Newsom’s orders.

“Opening the state is beyond the control of any one county,” Wagner said at Tuesday’s board meeting.  “The governor and the state is coming in with its heavy hand and saying you shall not do this. And Dr. Quick’s under state law, the board is under state law. The governor has said if you don’t get in line, he’s going to cut off emergency funds.” 

Supervisors also took issue with how Newsom has talked about the virus, raising concerns about a rise in hate incidents. 

Earlier this month, Newsom said the first case of person-to-person virus transmission happened in a nail salon. 

“It’s just a factual statement … not an indictment. Quite the contrary for an industry I deeply respect,” Newsom said at a news conference last Friday. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, Do and Steel both took issue with Newsom’s comments, and called on the local Human Relations Commission to look into a rise in hate crimes during the novel coronavirus pandemic.  

“Out of 11,000 nail salons in California, 80 percent are owned by Vietnamese-American community. And this is not acceptable without” scientific evidence, Steel said. 

Do also questioned how Newsom or state officials were able to locate California’s outbreak to a nail salon. 

Meanwhile, Newsom has announced more businesses can reopen beginning Tuesday. 

“If you cannot telework, we will allow for office modification and office openings on a statewide basis,” Newsom said at a Tuesday news conference. “In addition to other services like car washes and pet grooming.” 

He also said malls “can be open for pick up.” 

The governor also released guidelines to allow for sit-down dining at restaurants soon. 

The business shutdowns from Newsom’s stay home order and the subsequent health orders devastated the state’s economy and produced an unprecedented number of unemployment claims. 

On Monday, Newsom said the Employment Development Department has paid out $13.1 billion in unemployment claims since March 13 to 4.5 million Californians. His orders went into effect March 19. 

There were 18.2 million Californians employed in March, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Factoring in the unemployment claims, the state is facing an unemployment rate of over 20 percent. A precise number is difficult to determine without additional data because some people who lost hours are able to file for unemployment pay to help backfill lost wages.

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 [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

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