On the heels of Orange County recording its largest daily totals of coronavirus cases and deaths, county officials have asked the state to allow more businesses to reopen, potentially as soon as this weekend.
County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said Thursday, May 21, that the county has sent the state a plan showing it meets Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening guidelines and detailing how it would ensure the safety of workers, customers and the public as more businesses reopen.
County CEO Frank Kim said officials are still in consultation with the state on the plan and declined to make it public before that process concludes.
In a press conference, officials stressed that although 14 deaths were reported Thursday, the most in a single day, 10 of them were nursing home residents, and despite the 249 positive coronavirus tests reported Wednesday, the county’s highest daily total since the outbreak began – followed by 115 Thursday – Orange County’s metrics are lower than surrounding counties and the state as a whole. The county surpassed 100 deaths reported as of Thursday.
As measured in cases per 100,000 residents, Orange County stands at 147.2 cases, compared with the state’s 210.5 cases, Steel said – and the county’s rate of deaths, 3 per 100,000 residents, is below those of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, as well as the state overall, which reports 8.6 deaths per 100,000.
“Taking all of these statistics into account, Orange County is in good condition,” Steel said.
“We believe we have met all the criteria” to move further into Newsom’s Stage 2, she said, which would allow people to eat in restaurants and shop in stores, with precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus.
On Monday, Newsom revised the criteria for further relaxing business restrictions, which are intended to show that cases and deaths are steady or declining and that counties have the capability to care for the sick and keep the virus from spreading out of control.
Amid pro-reopening demonstrations and a steady drumbeat of residents urging public officials to let them get back to their lives, Orange County supervisors have been anxious since the governor offered the new pathway to show they can meet the state benchmarks.
If the state approves Orange County’s proposal, businesses that may reopen would have to follow safety guidelines – but some types of businesses, such as hair and nail salons, gyms, bars and theme parks, would be expected to remain closed.
Some residents have complained to state and local authorities about businesses reopening in violation of the closure order, but it’s unclear exactly how the order is being enforced or whether any Orange County establishments have been penalized.
As of late Thursday, county officials had not responded to requests submitted Wednesday for information on how the county Health Care Agency is handling the issue.
County officials have said they emphasize education over punishment. That’s also the approach of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which issues liquor licenses to bars and restaurants, spokesman John Carr said in an email.
Bars remain under the closure order, and restaurants in Orange County may offer take-out and delivery service at this time. Salons and barber shops remain closed and are expected to reopen in Stage 3, for which state officials haven’t named a date.
That’s frustrating to hair stylists and salon owners who have been trained in rigorous sanitation procedures and are willing to follow new guidelines for customer safety, but still don’t know when they’ll be allowed to operate, said Melissa Sprout, co-owner of Irvine salon KEMPT and a member of the OC Salon Owners Association.
Some stylists have been making clandestine house calls just to pay their bills, which raises its own health concerns and puts them at risk of losing their state license, Sprout said.
Whatever state and local authorities think would make stylists and clients safe, “I don’t know one stylist who isn’t saying, ‘OK, I’ll do it, just let me get back to work,’” she said.
“I think we’re as ready as we’re going to be.”
The state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology is looking into 1,091 complaints statewide about salons that have reopened or stylists making home visits, California Department of Consumer Affairs spokeswoman Cheri Gyuro said in an email.
Whether most customers will feel comfortable dining out, browsing a store or getting their hair done remains to be seen, but some businesses are reporting early success on that front.
The BarberHood in Laguna Hills reopened three weeks ago and has been filling its appointment book since, shop owner Rick Wood said.
Customers haven’t complained about rules that limit the number of people in the shop and require everyone to wear a protective mask.
“For the most part everyone that has come and gotten in the chair has been grateful,” Wood said. “The consensus seems to be that this is probably going to be the new normal for a while, so why are we waiting?”
Orange County officials said they’ll continue to monitor coronavirus case counts and deaths and will be prepared to pull back on reopening if they see unexplained spikes or indications the outbreak could overwhelm county health and safety resources.
But at some point, CEO Kim said, it will be up to residents to decide how comfortable they feel going out to businesses.
“We know that in other counties that have opened, residents have been exercising their own good judgment,” and he expects people here to do the same, he said.