With coronavirus cases spiking, Orange County officials Wednesday ordered the closure of all bars effective at midnight and continuing until further notice.
The order affects all bars, pubs, breweries and brew pubs that do not offer dine-in meals. Establishments that do serve dine-in food can only sell alcohol in the same transaction as a meal.
The closure order was almost inevitable ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, given similar action already taken in surrounding counties of Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside. Orange County officials expressed concern that if they did not act, the county would become a magnet for holiday revelers from across Southern California.
“While we would prefer not to close bars at this time, many of our neighboring counties have closed their bars, and it’s important to take precautions to ensure the safety of the general public,” county Supervisor Michelle Steel said in a statement.
The decision comes a day after the county announced a record single-day increase in the number of coronavirus infections — 779 — although nearly half of those cases were the result of a backlog of earlier test results. The county also announced 10 additional deaths on Tuesday, raising the overall death toll to 340. The county’s total number of COVID-19 cases is 13,843.
Last week was the deadliest of the pandemic in Orange County, with 56 deaths reported.
The number of hospitalized patients in Orange County rose from 485 on Monday to 510, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 175 to 176.
The county has performed 233,281 COVID-19 tests, with 7,423 documented recoveries as of Tuesday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday Orange County, along with Solano, Merced and Glenn counties, had been added to the state Department of Public Health’s watch list due to increasing percentages of positive tests.
The county’s case rate rose from 109.2 per 100,000 residents on Monday to 115.2 per 100,000 on Tuesday. The positive test rate increased from 9.3% to 9.9%, according to health officials.
The state has set a desired standard average of 25 positive cases per 100,000 over a 14-day period, and a seven-day average positivity rate of 8%.
The three-day average increase of hospitalized patients is 9.7%, creeping up on the state’s threshold of 10%. But that is down from Monday when it was at 11.6%.
Health officials insisted Orange County is in good shape in terms of hospital beds available. The county has 40.6% of its intensive care unit beds available, above the state threshold of 20%, and has 67% of its ventilators available, above the state standard of 25%.
Although the county ordered all bars to close, the county has not moved to close beaches, despite the coastline being closed in neighboring Los Angeles County and in Ventura County. San Diego County beaches will also remain open.
The city of Laguna Beach, which had already canceled its planned Fourth of July fireworks display, will close its beach on Saturday. The city council also left open the possibility of extending the closure throughout the weekend if larges crowds begin to gather.
County Supervisor Andrew Do on Wednesday urged all residents and business owners “to be extra cautious this holiday weekend.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett warned Tuesday that since the county has been managing cases at congregate living facilities, the current spike in cases is the result of community transmission.
The best way to stem the tide of community transmission is to encourage facial coverings and social distancing, she said.
Do on Tuesday announced a contract with Latino Health Access for a new program providing more outreach to residents in the county’s hot spots of Santa Ana and Anaheim.
“There is no question in my mind now for the need for social distancing, good sanitation practices and face coverings,” Do said.
“With the Fourth of July weekend coming if we are not careful about protecting each other we may reach a point where we need to shut down parts of the county and economy.”
The escalating numbers of infections and deaths “should really silence to a large degree any debate over the necessities for these measures I mentioned earlier,” Do said. “It’s no longer a political question or issue — it’s really a health issue.”
Eight out of the 10 highest case rates in the county are in Anaheim and Santa Ana, Do said.
Do said he expected a rise in cases when the economy was reopened, “But I have to admit… within the last two to four weeks they have been a little bit alarming.”
Do emphasized that people living in the nation illegally should not fear participating in the new outreach program for local residents.
“Undocumented immigrants should not be fearful about being tested,” Do said. “No immigration status will be asked or shared with anyone… We want to be culturally sensitive and respond effectively in a way that will penetrate these disadvantaged communities.”
The program will also include a mobile response team to help stem any spread in schools when they reopen, Do said.
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