Orange County could soon open more businesses after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a majority of California can begin relaxing some of his stay home orders put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Editor’s Note: As Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom, Voice of OC brings you the best, most comprehensive local Coronavirus news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. We need your help. Please, click here to make a tax-deductible donation today to support your local news.
“Effectively immediately, meaning the guidelines are out there, meaning the processes are out there, but they can go at their own pace,” Newsom said at a Monday news conference. “Roughly 53 of the 58 counties will be eligible to move into this phase.”
But Newsom didn’t say which counties would qualify to open.
While Newsom loosened some of his orders last Monday to allow for curbside pick-up at retail shops, and the transportation and manufacturing that support it, businesses like dine-in restaurants are still closed.
As of Monday, the virus has killed 88 people in OC, out of 4,434 confirmed cases, according to the County’s updated numbers. There were also 194 people hospitalized due to the virus, with 78 in intensive care units. Over 80,500 people have been tested for the virus, out of a population of over 3.1 million residents.
OC Supervisors, along with many local officials throughout the state, said Newsom’s original guidelines on reopening more businesses were too restrictive. Especially the guideline that stipulated no virus death for two weeks.
That benchmark is gone now.
Instead, counties must now have no more than 25 virus cases per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks before allowing more businesses to reopen. Counties can also show that less than 8 percent of residents tested positive for the virus over a one-week period.
“As the testing significantly increases, the positivity rate becomes more important than the total number of positives in many respects,” Newsom said.
When asked by the press corps what’s changed to cause Newsom to relax restrictions, he said it’s because the statewide hospitalization trend has stabilized, along with the positive case rates.
“The positivity rate in terms of the total number of people infected continues to be stable,” Newsom said. “Remember the whole purpose of the stay at home order was to prepare and to respond in a worst case scenario.”
Orange County supervisors have been critical of Newsom in recent weeks, beginning with his OC-only beach closures.
There was also questions about enforcement of the business closure orders, especially after Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner said the county Health Care Agency wouldn’t take enforcement action on Nomad’s Canteen, a San Clemente restaurant that opened its doors at the beginning of the month, sparking a wave of resistance to Newsom’s orders.
But Health Care Agency officials have since said they must follow state guidelines and will take enforcement action on businesses that reopen before they’re allowed to.
Although Supervisors adopted business reopening guidelines last month, the board is expected to consider some proposals to update those guidelines from county health officials at their Tuesday meeting.
Newsom said barber shops and churches could be opening in “a number of weeks” as the state prepares to begin relaxing the stay home orders.
The stay home orders have decimated Californians income.
Last week, Newsom said he expects a nearly 25 percent unemployment rate at some point this year and the state is facing a $54 billion deficit.
There were 1.5 million OC residents employed in March, before the pandemic began, according to state employment department numbers. It’s still unknown how many people in OC still have a job.
But, the Governor warned, if there’s a spike in virus cases and hospitalizations, sections of the economy could be shut down again.
“We’ll note that the order we put out today will allow for counseling services and allow for churches to meet more broadly as offices. But for the congregate, that’s a few weeks away,” Newsom said.
“This is an important period of time. We’re moving into an important few weeks ahead of us and we’re going to start seeing a lot more activity.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sonyanews.