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By Shawn Raymundo and Lillian Boyd
Orange County’s bars, gyms, movie theaters, professional sports and schools are among the sectors that could reopen with modifications as early as Friday, June 12, marking another step forward in the state’s phased approach to reopening California’s economy.
State officials late last week announced that counties that had previously received approval to move further into Stage 2 of the governor’s reopening plan, including Orange County, could reopen additional business sectors following a review of local epidemiological data.
The businesses will be expected to institute laundry lists of social distancing guidelines and encourage face coverings to minimize exposure to others and prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
Movie theaters, in particular, will be required to limit seating, rely on reservation ticketing systems, direct ushers to monitor customer flow to avoid congregating, and designate separate entry and exit routes, among other stipulations.
Bars are expected to prioritize and expand outdoor seating, limit the number of patrons at tables, as well as the number inside based on establishment size; discontinue seating at bar counters where six feet of social distancing can’t be maintained; and lower the volume of house music so employees can hear customers more clearly without having to get too close to take orders.
Announcements from the county and state this past Friday noted that local health officers will have the final say on which sectors can reopen. Those decisions will need to be based on the data for the specific communities.
“As we continue to release guidance on how different sections can reopen with modifications, it is important to remember guidance doesn’t mean ‘go,’ ” Dr. Sonia Angell, the state’s public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a June 5 press release. “Your local health officer will make the final decision about which sectors will open, guided by data specific to your community.”
In order to continue moving further along the state’s reopening road map, counties must demonstrate a stable or decreasing number of hospitalized patients for COVID-19. Over a seven-day period, the average daily change in percentage can be no greater than 5%.
Counties must also keep their cumulative COVID-19 case positivity rate below 8% over a 14-day period. As of Wednesday, June 10, Orange County’s test positivity rate was at 4.7%, according to the state.
In another press release, Molly Nichelson, the county’s public information officer, said a final decision regarding the timing for reopening will come from Orange County’s health officer no sooner than this Friday.
As of press time, Nichelson had not responded to a San Clemente Times request for additional comment.
Preparations to begin reopening the additional sectors this week comes amid the resignation of Orange County Health Care Agency Officer Dr. Nichole Quick, whose sudden departure has led to Dr. Clayton Chau, the agency’s director, taking that role.
On Thursday, June 11, Chau announced the face covering rule would be relaxed as the county prepares for additional business openings on Friday.
Quick resigned on Monday, June 8, amid controversy over the county’s face mask order, which is that everyone must wear a face mask in public places where they cannot keep a distance of six feet from each other, and her directives on how businesses could reopen. A security detail had been assigned to Quick after protesters had demonstrated in front of her home and after she had received death threats.
Quick also faced backlash after her office reportedly intended to issue a warning to the owner of Nomads Canteen, which had reopened for dine-in service in defiance of the statewide stay-at-home order in May. That direction prompted a sharp rebuke from OC Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner.
During the OC Board of Supervisors’ special meeting on Tuesday, June 9, officials questioned whether the order and the emergency declaration would still need to be in effect.
Wagner asked Chau what metrics Orange County would need to meet in order for the mask policy to be eased, but Chau was unable to give a clear answer that satisfied Wagner, saying it was unclear how the boost in public gatherings, protests and reopenings would impact coronavirus case counts.
“We are seeing an increase in community transmission,” Quick had said at the June 2 board meeting. “I also think our hospitalization rates have been trending up.”
Health officials reminded the board that while face masks do not protect the individual wearing them, they reduce the spread to others with whom they have been exposed.
While crowds of residents have been attending the board meetings to lobby against the face mask requirement, county leaders emphasize that the ease-up was not a result of pressure from the public.
“This decision is not because of the public push back on it, and we are not taking the masks away,” Chau said. “We strongly recommend that people wear masks.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.
Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.