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By Collin Breaux | Email: | Twitter: @collin_breaux

This past week was supposed to have been a fun one.

There would have been San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association’s Fiesta Grande at Swallow’s Inn, St. Joseph’s Day at Mission San Juan Capistrano and other notable events leading up to the 62nd annual Swallows Day Parade on Saturday, March 21.

The parade was instead postponed, an omen of things to come. One by one, places closed as concerns increased about the coronavirus pandemic—Swallow’s Inn, the Mission, Trevor’s at the Tracks. By the time March 21 came, downtown—usually bustling with tourists and residents—resembled a scene from a zombie apocalypse film, with very few people on the streets. Activity crawled to a standstill, except for the occasional construction worker or passing car.

The mood shifted in South Orange County and the world. People became bored, restless, agitated, looking for direction. They could no longer see movies at The Regency Theatres on Verdugo Street. The planned St. Patrick’s Day grand opening of Paddy’s Station, a new Irish pub replacing The Vintage Steakhouse, has been delayed. The I-5 freeway, usually jammed with traffic, even saw a noticeable decrease in activity.

People are helping each other, praying and continuing on, though.

The Fiesta Association—along with the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce and other volunteers—were still out in the community the weekend of March 21, this time giving away free meals during a drive-through food distribution event at Marbella Plaza. The food giveaway will continue this weekend, March 28-29.

“Volunteering is in our genetic makeup, so we’re into this,” Fiesta Association President Jim Taylor said.

A new group named Crisis Kitchen Coalition, banding together with small restaurant owners, formed to help feed people for the March 21-22 food distribution. The group is the brainchild of Sweet Home Capistrano Bakery CEO James Parris, who wants to turn it into a nonprofit to continue helping people. Crisis Kitchen Coalition received monetary donations during the distribution event.

“When Parris made the call and said he had this idea, we said, ‘We’re in,’ ” Taylor said.

San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce board member Ricardo Beas, owner of Ricardo’s Place in San Juan Capistrano—one of the restaurants that had to close—said other groups are welcome to join in and help.

“This is to help the needy; seniors, kids,” Beas said. “We’re trying to do the right thing right now.” 

Neighbors in the Sun Ranch neighborhood of San Juan have started a daily happy hour in which people stand in their home driveways at a safe distance and play music or show positive community support in other ways. Neighbors and friends Jackie Price, Carol McIntyre and Shelly Kurtz came up with the idea after hearing about similar ideas elsewhere.

“It helps people to know they’re not alone,” Price said. “People are seeing and meeting people who were their neighbors for years but they never interacted with.”

Cedar Creek Inn owner Sally Cochran spoke with The Capistrano Dispatch before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order was issued, saying their restaurant had been cleaning constantly and noticed a drop in business. Cochran reflected on how life has drastically been altered, calling it “really tough.”

“It’s a confusing time,” Cochran said. “I’m looking out the window, and there’s no cars.”

Cochran and others have been watching television for news updates, which seem to happen by the minute as the crisis evolves.

Before Trevor’s closed, owner Trevor Baird also spoke with The Capistrano Dispatch and said the situation was crazy and one he was taking day by day. Trevor’s is not operationally equipped to provide take-out food service.

“You’ve got the most happening bar down,” Baird said of Swallow’s Inn being closed.

City Manager Ben Siegel wrote in an email on March 16 that the city is planning for the potential of significant financial impacts resulting from reduced sales tax and transient occupancy tax (hotel) revenue. 

“Our executive team is actively developing economic contingency plans to ensure that the City will continue to provide critical municipal services to residents and businesses,” Siegel said.

A March 23 update from the city said officials are continuing to follow the guidance of public health professionals and are maintaining close communication with the county’s Health Care Agency and emergency managers.

Dennie Hahn, owner of The Cottage Gallery, a small business in the Los Rios District, also wrote in a March 16 email that they had decided to close during the pandemic. 

“We are very concerned for the effect this will have on our employees and our surrounding small businesses,” Hahn said. “It is already hard to be a small business owner. We have worked very hard to build a loyal customer base, and we hope that they will return to us when this is all over.  In the meantime, we will offer shopping via our websites or social media and continue to try to find ways of staying connected to our customers.”

Mission Hospital in South Orange County also faces a new world under the coronavirus pandemic.

The facility says it’s prepared to deal with the ,coronavirus, but it realizes the unique challenges the pandemic poses. Mission Hospital said in a statement that while it routinely trains for emergencies, “the scope of this outbreak is an enormous challenge for health care.”

Mission Hospital declined to comment on specific information regarding coronavirus testing or positive tests for patients, as patient privacy is a priority. Information will be reported to the appropriate health agency if patients test positive.

“We are urging the public to heed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home directive, as well as common-sense hygiene practices,” the Mission Hospital statement said. “We have set up temporary facilities outside our emergency departments to screen patients away from the general hospital population. We are urging people with mild symptoms to stay home and self-quarantine for two weeks.”

Mission Hospital also recommends clients use its Providence Express Care Virtual system for an online visit with a nurse practitioner who can screen, assess, prescribe, chart and advise next steps.

“We are working with our experts and other stakeholders to ensure supplies of personal protection equipment and as well as equipment necessary for patient care,” the Mission Hospital statement said. “We will have great challenges in providing the level of care that will be needed in the coming weeks, and perhaps months, if the community does not cooperate with required and recommended safety measures.”

Orange County residents can sign up to receive coronavirus-related, text message updates by texting OCCOVID19 to 888777.

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comments (1)

  • On the plus side, I haven’t seen the streets this empty, traffic wise, in 40 years. Gas is under $3 a gallon at Costco too. Hopefully the downtown construction projects will be completed by the time the Swallows Day Parade happens.

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