Law enforcement officers and representatives of other agencies will try to persuade business owners bucking the state’s stay-at-home order to remain closed until the state relaxes its restrictions, Orange County Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim emphasized Thursday.
“We’re going to do progressive enforcement like every day,” Kim told City News Service.
At a news conference on Thursday, Kim fielded multiple questions from reporters about so-called non-essential businesses reopening in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order during the coronavirus pandemic.
Christine and Rick Wood reopened their BarberHood barber shop in Laguna Hills last Friday, but have attempted all of the social distancing conditions they could think of.
The owner of Nomads Canteen in San Clemente, who reopened for dining-in business this past weekend, was told by inspectors with the Orange County Health Care Agency that it was in defiance of the state’s order. Supervisor Don Wagner said it was a “bobble” and shouldn’t have happened.
However, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said non-essential businesses should not be reopening.
Another restaurant in Orange recently reopened for dining in, but when contacted by City News Service on Thursday an employee said a health department official told them to stop and they would return to the allowed carry-out service only.
The state will relax its health order on Friday, allowing “low-risk” businesses such as clothing and book stores, music shops, toy stores, sporting goods stores and florists to reopen with curbside service only.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state will consider petitions from individual counties that want to go further and allow other businesses to open, but the decision will be based on strict guidelines.
“Of course we’re open to argument, interested in their unique conditions and circumstances, and we’ll try to provide some flexibility,” Newsom said.
“But again, it’s a health-first frame, and if they can’t meet it on the basis of data and facts, on trend lines, on hospitalizations, on ICU data, on death data, and positive (case) data, then we’re not able to accommodate that, and we’ll be compelled to enforce it in a thoughtful and judicious way.”
Counties that want to allow more businesses to open than the state is authorizing will have to meet a series of data-based criteria, including reporting no more than one case per 10,000 residents in the last 14 days; reporting no deaths in the past 14 days; providing daily testing of 1.5 tests per 1,000 residents; having 15 contact-tracers available for every 100,000 residents; and ensuring hospitals have the capacity to handle a 35% surge in cases.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who is president of the California State Association of Counties, said she had a scheduled call with state health department officials Thursday evening and planned to propose a different standard for larger counties such as Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The density and higher population will make it virtually impossible to get through two weeks without a COVID-19 related death for the foreseeable future, Bartlett said.
“We need to look at the right criteria and metrics relative to the population of the county — something that is more fair and balanced,” Bartlett told City News Service.
Kim said the county has shown it has flattened the curve and pointed to the steady rate of intensive-care patients over the past month and longer. There have been 14 deaths since Monday, but much of that is owed to an outbreak of cases at a few skilled nursing facilities — two in Anaheim and most recently in Huntington Beach, Bartlett and Kim said.
Also, county officials have ramped up testing, which explains an increase in positive cases, particularly in the Orange County jails, where 18 inmates are sick.
This week, 129 jail staff were tested and 106 came back negative and 23 are awaiting results from a lab, Kim said.
Kim said the county’s hospital system is at half capacity, so it can handle a 35% surge.
The county has boosted testing, and the state will soon open two test sites in the county, one in Santa Ana and another in San Juan Capistrano, Kim said.
Subtracting the case counts in the jails and nursing homes shows, “We are flattening the curve within the community,” Kim said.
Bartlett said she is sympathetic to business leaders concerned about how much longer they have to hold out.
“We need to have businesses compliant with the executive order,” Bartlett said. “It’s a matter of finding that proper balance. We want to get them open as quickly as possible, but at the same time we don’t want to put businesses in harms’ way relative to opening.”
A business owner who jumps the gun may run the risk of losing a business or liquor license from the state, Bartlett said. The county’s environmental health inspectors are licensed by the state, so they are legally required to enforce state laws, Kim said.
“As we receive complaints from individuals in the community we’ll go out and investigate and have conversations” with merchants, Kim said.
“The real goal of it is to meet with business owners and have them understand what is happening… provide them with information and have discussions… and the goal is to seek voluntary compliance and education…. Our goal is not to run around Orange County and shut down businesses left and right.”
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