It looks like a series of retail shops, manufacturing businesses and warehouses in Orange County and across the state will be able to reopen for business on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced during his daily press conference on Thursday.


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Businesses able to open will have to meet physical distancing criteria for customers as well as offering workers masks in order to be in compliance with the governor’s orders.

Yet in Orange County, it’s increasingly unclear how local law enforcement and county health care agency officials will be enforcing the governor’s orders during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Regarding Newsom’s latest reopening guidelines, local public health officials say Orange County currently isn’t at the benchmark for reopening businesses like restaurants. 

“Some of the key criteria … we simply don’t meet at this time,” County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said at a Thursday news conference. 

If the county doesn’t meet the state’s standard on testing availability and lower virus transmission trends, OC residents won’t be able to dine in at their favorite restaurants or hang out inside shopping malls and movie theaters. 

And it doesn’t look like the county will hit some of those goals any time soon, based on the county’s death rate and new case trends reported by county health officials. OC is also lagging behind the testing benchmark Newsom established. 

The virus has killed 66 people out of 3,092 confirmed cases. There were also 186 people hospitalized, including 69 people in intensive care units. So far, there has been 43,351 virus tests conducted in the county, which is home to over 3.1 million people. 

But OC Supervisor Michelle Steel at the beginning of the news conference said there are “comparatively low” coronavirus case rates compared to other regions.

Newsom during his own news conference Thursday said state officials will be “open to argument,” but “if they (counties) can’t meet it … then we’re not able to accommodate that and we’ll be compelled to enforce (the restrictions) in a thoughtful and judicious way.”  

The Governor is allowing some retail shops, manufacturing businesses and warehouses to reopen as long as the businesses can provide personal protective equipment to employees and implement the CDC-recommended six-foot physical distancing. He’s also encouraging curb-side pick up for retail businesses. 

If counties, like OC, want to go further, 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.  

“The biggest restriction of course is customer confidence. Just because you’re open … doesn’t mean a customer is going to show up,” Newsom. 

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the CA Health and Human Services Department, said people shouldn’t expect a return to normal any time soon. 

“It does not mean a return to normal. We know that COVID-19 is still spreading,” Ghaly said at Thursday’s news conference.

Ghaly said reopening retail stores will be “done in a physically distanced way … we’re encouraging retailers to install hands free devices (for payment) … we’ll see a lot more hand sanitizers outside the door.” 

The situation for businesses like restaurants in Orange County remains a bit fuzzy. 

County CEO Frank Kim during the Thursday news conference said that while health inspectors will respond to complaints about restaurants violating state restrictions on in-person dining, “our goal is to seek voluntary compliance.”

“Our goal is not to run around Orange County and shut down businesses left and right,” he said.

There was enforcement confusion earlier this week when Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner called on Health Care Agency officials to not enforce the guidelines against Nomad’s Canteens in San Clemente.

Nomad’s became the heart of the enforcement issue when it opened its doors for sit-down dining and bar service over last weekend. News reports showed many people not wearing masks. 

Despite County officials indicating they’ll follow the state orders that ban dine-in restaurants from operating, Nomad’s Canteen was slated to reopen Thursday and the owner told the OC Register he would stay open despite any fine or punishment he may face. 

Business representatives say uncertainty remains over what the guidelines will mean for small shops, which are struggling to weather this crisis.

“We’re looking to see what kind of restrictions will still exist,” said Ryan Smolar of Downtown Inc., a group representing businesses in downtown Santa Ana. “Will stores and restaurants have half-occupancy? How is that going to function?”

He added that while his group and other businesses representatives in the city have been talking with county health officials about what to expect, the guidelines are “coming out from the Governor, down to the county, then to people in the cities like us — so we’re a little lower on the totem pole of knowing what’s happening at the moment.”

State officials also authorized county officials’ plans to reopen county-run beaches, after local OC cities already got their beach reopening plans approved by the governor earlier this week. 

County community resources director Dylan Wright said the county-controlled beaches, like Salt Creek and Capistrano Beach in Dana Point, reopened Thursday, with restrictions on group activities like barbeques, sandcastles, and sunbathing – following approval by the state of the reopening plan submitted by the county.

The beach issue drew a divide between Supervisors at their Tuesday meeting, with Steel and Wagner heavily pushing back on Newsom’s OC beach closures. 

But Supervisors Lisa Bartlett, Doug Chaffee and Andrew Do said the County should’ve been working with Newsom’s administration to get the beach open. 

On Thursday, Steel doubled-down on her previous criticisms of Newsom, calling his “singling out” of Orange County with his previous order to close all the beaches “clearly arbitrary and capricious.”

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 scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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

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