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As Orange County restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses are welcoming people back indoors, it looks like city and state officials will largely be responsible for enforcing statewide coronavirus guidelines. 


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County Health Care Agency and Public Health officials have announced they will only continue regular restaurant inspections related to food preparation, with roughly 50 food inspectors for more than 10,000 restaurants around the county. 

Epidemiologists have told Voice of OC they’re watching the reopenings closely and enforcement of the new guidelines will play a major factor in limiting the spread of the virus. 

Numerous public health experts have attributed the June and July case spikes to the rushed Memorial Day weekend reopenings — especially packed restaurants and bars. 

In Orange County, the bulk of enforcing the guidelines calling for limiting the number of people inside will fall to city code enforcement departments and state officials

“So we work closely with the state strike team and CEO Frank Kim and I have a weekly call with all the city managers and city mayors, also. And really we want to leverage the relationship we have,” said county health officer Dr. Clayton Chau at a Tuesday news conference

Gov. Gavin Newsom created state strike teams in July to aid in virus guideline and health order enforcement.

The strike teams represent an alphabet soup of regulatory agencies, which include the Alcoholic Beverage Control, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Business Oversight, the Department of Consumer Affairs and the California Highway Patrol.

“They have visited a lot of restaurants and, so far, I think they’ve issued warnings to less than a dozen,” Chau said about the strike teams. “They found compliance to be pretty high in Orange County. We are looking at what else can we do with health inspectors.” 

Chau said while the Health Care Agency can oversee restaurants, it doesn’t have the ability to enforce guidelines on other businesses. 

“I don’t have staff resources for the other types of businesses. So we are relying on the relationship we have with the cities to support us on doing that,” Chau said. 

Anaheim officials have previously said the city’s code enforcement employees have visited numerous businesses — including restaurants — to make sure coronavirus public health guidelines are being followed. 

Chau said while the Health Care Agency won’t disclose restaurant outbreaks, people should look for virus reopening plans in diners as required under the Safe Dine OC program administered by the Orange County Business Council.  

“You want to pay attention to if they’re posting their reopening plan and attestation on the door,” Chau said. “So the consumer can make a personal and wise decision of whether or not they want to step into an establishment.” 

Orange County moved into Tier Two of the state’s virus list, also known as the Red Tier, on Tuesday. 

The new tier means gyms, churches, movie theaters, restaurants, nail salons and museums can reopen their indoor operations. 

Nightclubs, bars, wineries, convention centers and theme parks remain closed. 

At a news conference last Thursday, Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, director of the HCA’s Public Health Services team, said officials are most concerned about indoor activities with the move into Tier Two. 

“I think as we reopen … the biggest concerns and areas that we want to focus on supporting are things indoors. Whether its indoor malls or indoor dining, those are the areas of largest concern for us,” Bredehoft said. 

Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has killed 1,065 county residents out of 50,190 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency. 

Over the past two days, 12 new deaths have been reported. 

For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 OC residents annually.  

As of Wednesday, 234 people were hospitalized from the virus, including 62 in intensive care units. 

Nearly 711,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. 

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

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