Orange County has been upgraded from the purple to red tier in California’s coronavirus monitoring system, allowing movie theaters, churches and restaurants to reopen for indoor operations at reduced capacity.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, issued a new health order Tuesday that spells out the details of how businesses can reopen.
“We knew we had already met those metrics” as of Friday, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said, adding she spent a good deal of time over the holiday weekend helping prepare businesses for reopening.
“I contacted a lot of businesses over Labor Day weekend to get them prepared to rehire staff and getting tables sanitized and (personal protective equipment) in place to pull the trigger when we open today in the red tier,” she said Tuesday.
Under the red tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-tier Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the county will be able to reopen movie theaters and restaurants for indoor dining at 25% capacity, or 100 people, whichever is less, and churches for indoor worship at 25% capacity, or 100 people. Restaurants must close by 10 p.m.
Museums, zoos and aquariums also may reopen indoor activities at 25% capacity.
Shopping centers may expand from 25% capacity to half-capacity under the red tier.
Personal care service business such as nail salons and tattoo parlors may reopen indoors with modifications. Gyms may reopen, but at 10% capacity.
To move up to the next tier of orange, the county will have to be between 1 to 3.9 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents per day, with a positivity rate between 2 and 4.9% for two consecutive weeks at least.
Bartlett said she saw a good deal of compliance with state guidelines for social distancing and face covering usage over the holiday weekend.
“We had a lot of people out and about over Labor Day weekend, but I did see a lot of compliance with the state public health guidelines, so that was reassuring,” Bartlett said.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said he saw much of the same.
“I did drive by the beaches to see how they were doing and while it did look like a lot of beaches were being utilized, I did see people placing their towels and sun coverings six feet apart, so I thought residents and beach users were using good behavior,” Kim said. “I’m not expecting to see a big bump up in terms of (coronavirus) cases.”
Kim said the county’s contact tracers have noticed far greater threats than outdoor gatherings such as at beaches.
“The greater risk from contact tracing we’ve found is really in the family gatherings,” Kim said.
“In the past this has been an area where the disease transmission has been prevalent, so these types of (gatherings) are more of a concern than people out in the park or beach or in an open-air environment,” Kim said.
Kim said he visited South Coast Plaza over the weekend and “it looked like the stores were managing compliance well; they had (signs) posted on the front doors, they were limiting the number of individuals allowed into each store and I thought they were doing a good job.”
Many private K-6th-grade schools that won waivers from the county and state returned to school for in-person instruction Tuesday. They included the Los Alamitos School District’s schools as well as 27 Diocese of Orange schools. Two of the Roman Catholic schools remained in distance learning.
Officials reported 151 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and three additional deaths, bringing the county’s cumulative total to 49,996 cases, with 1,056 fatalities.
Hospitalizations in the county inched up from 238 Monday to 242 Tuesday, while the number of people in intensive care declined from 75 to 70, according to the OCHCA.
The rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 was at 4.2% on a 7-day average. To get to the orange tier the county must be between 2-4.9%.
The daily case count per 100,000 stands at 5.2. To get to the next level, the county must be at 2-4.9%.
The OCHCA reported that 703,855 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 3,363 reported Tuesday. There have been 43,898 documented recoveries.
But even with the positive trends, the earliest Orange County’s schools can reopen for personal instruction is Sept. 22. County officials had argued for credit for time spent off the state’s coronavirus watch list before the state switched to the tier system, changing the way it evaluated progress against curbing the spread of coronavirus. However, county officials were told the state did not want to establish a precedent.