Orange County churches, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms can resume limited indoor operations after the county was moved to the second tier on the state’s coronavirus reopening plans. 

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The businesses will join a host of others that have been open for months, like auto part stores, grocery stores, department stores, mechanics, sporting good stores and more. 

Although some businesses will have to limit how many people they allow indoors. 

For example, less than 100 people or 25 percent of the building’s capacity — whichever number is fewer — can be in a restaurant, church or movie theater at one time.

Gyms will have to limit the number of people inside to 10 percent of the building’s capacity and libraries can open at 50 percent of the building’s capacity. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the new tiered reopening system is an effort to avoid a repeat of Memorial Day, when restaurants and bars reopened. Shortly after, cases started to spike in OC and the state, followed by hospitalizations in July and now the deaths continue to roll in from those spikes. 

“A point of consideration: three-day holiday weekends have not been advantageous in terms of mitigation of the spread,” Newsom said at a Tuesday news conference. 

“As a consequence, we’re very cautious on our approach as we move forward,” he said. 

Orange County will have to stay on Tier Two — also known as the Red Tier — for at least three weeks before being allowed to reopen more businesses. 

The statewide coronavirus tier list website breaks down exactly what businesses can open and what the limitations are. 

If the virus trends hold, all schools can reopen their classrooms beginning Sept. 22. 

At last Thursday’s news conference, county CEO Frank Kim said he was disappointed OC didn’t get time credit for being off the watchlist, which would’ve allowed schools to reopen classrooms Tuesday. 

“On behalf of the county, I can express to you that we were quite frustrated that we were not able to open our k-12 schools on Sept. 8 … because we had met the criteria for the 14-day cycle,” Kim said, referring to the old state virus watchlist. 

Kim said the previous round of Memorial Day reopenings moved too quickly. 

“My perspective is that when we first did the reopening back in may, perhaps it was too quick in opening all the indoor spaces at 100 percent,” Kim said. 

Numerous public health experts, including county Health Care Agency officials, attributed the sudden case spikes to restaurant and bar reopenings. 

Bars are still closed, unless they serve meals like a sports bar, according to state guidelines.

Supervisor Don Wagner criticized the state’s new tier list. 

“Orange County has been hitting the marks from the State but we haven’t been getting the credit we’re due and that’s been a source of frustration for us,” Wagner said in a Tuesday supervisors’ statement. 

“The State should give up on their failed phasing systems and return local control to the counties. Trust local leaders, businesses, and schools to reopen safely,” he said. 

Wagner’s colleagues took a different approach. 

“It is my goal that the County continues to take all the right measures and precautions to ensure the health and safety of our residents, while at the same time, allowing for the safe reopening our economy so Orange County can get back to business,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said in the statement. 

“This has been a challenging time for so many people in my district, including many of our small businesses. It’s time for us to move forward and get our economy back on track so Orange County can once again thrive and come back even stronger than before,” she said.

Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel, who previously criticized mask mandates in the past with Wagner, said the county can continue moving up the tiers if residents follow public health guidelines. 

“With our continued hard work, I am confident that we will continue trending in the right direction and move into the Orange tier in the not too distant future. The County of Orange can’t get there without everyone’s help and participation in observing health guidelines,” Steel said. 

Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has now killed 1,056 OC residents out of 49,996 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, according to the county Health Care Agency.

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 Tuesday, 242 people were hospitalized with the virus, including 70 in intensive care units. 

Nearly 704,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. 

Secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said he’s concerned the upcoming flu season could worsen the virus spread.  

Ghaly, along with other public health experts, have warned the symptoms of the flu and coronavirus are similar, which could hamper efforts to control the spread. 

“We need to remain vigilant and confident that the trends are coming down, especially as we enter flu season, as we enter colder months and it’s harder to do things outdoors and things move indoors,” Ghaly said at Newsom’s news conference. 

“We are confident that going slow and stringent will be the way that carries us forward and ensures that doesn’t move us back.”  

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 Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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