Orange County can now reopen dine-in restaurants and shopping centers after state health officials approved the County’s reopening plans just in time for Memorial Day weekend. 

“We continue to see low numbers of Coronavirus cases, and because of that we have reached another milestone. Governor Newsom has allowed Orange County to resume activities, like dining in restaurants and visiting shopping centers, as long as state health measures are followed. This is a much-needed step forward for our business community and our residents,” OC Supervisor Andrew Do said in a news release. 

OC Health Officer Nichole Quick also issued an order Saturday requiring non-medical grade masks when residents go to work or out to shop. 

“All Orange County residents and visitors shall wear a cloth face-covering when (i) in a public place; (ii) visiting a retail, commercial or other place of business; or (iii) at work, and when the resident or visitor is not able to maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from another person who is not a family/household member or live in the same living unit,” reads Quick’s order.

The order goes into effect at midnight. 

Manufacturing and office businesses are allowed to reopen also, but offices are being encouraged to continue working from home if possible. Businesses like hair salons, bars, nightclubs, sports arenas and theaters remained closed until Gov. Gavin Newsom gives the green light to reopen more business across the state. 

There was some confusion over if the County would enforce the state’s business closures earlier this month after a series of conflicting messages from County Supervisors, but OC officials said they’re bound by the state’s orders. 

Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel acknowledged some of the confusion in a Saturday news release. 

“I have been adamant in recent weeks about lifting these restrictions on our business community. Our local businesses are hurting from these closures from the state,” Steel stated in the release. “While Orange County businesses have had the ability to safely open under the County’s business guidelines from three weeks ago, there understandably has been some confusion, as messaging from state, county and city governments have been different.”

The virus has now killed 130 people out of 5,157 confirmed cases as of Saturday, according to the latest numbers from the County. There were 249 people hospitalized, including 101 in intensive care units. There’s also been 97,470 tests conducted throughout the county, which is home to nearly 3.2 million people. 

The business closures, which started March 19, have caused millions of Californians to apply for unemployment benefits. 

Newsom said he expects a 25 percent unemployment rate at some point this year — more than double the rate during the peak of the Great Recession in 2010. 

“We’re confident in how the Orange County business community will work to ensure the safety and welfare of their staff and customers alike,” Supervisor Doug Chaffee said in a Saturday news release. “Our goal is to ensure the safe re-opening of businesses that meet the Stage Two criteria so that we can work toward re-opening more sectors of Orange County’s economy.”

The economic fallout has been putting pressure on the County’s Social Service Agency. 

“Last week was one of our busiest weeks in our contact center. We took over 22,000 calls last week,” agency Director Debra Baetz told Supervisors during their Tuesday meeting. 

“We accepted over 6,800 applications for public assistance,” Baetz said. “Food insecurity continues to be the number one ask in the community — 61 percent of our applications are CalFresh (food stamp) applications.”

OC had its two deadliest days this week, with a majority of those deaths in nursing homes. 

The reopenings could be peeled back if hospitalizations reach a breaking point and the County would have to look to other county hospitals for help, Quick said at a Thursday news conference. 

“We will also look for unexplained increases in cases, unexplained increases in deaths and any other sort of trigger shows that there are community transmission or outbreaks that are beyond something we feel we have the resources to control,” Quick said. 

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

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