Orange County Meets Some State Criteria for Reopening Faster, Falls Short On Others, Officials Say

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Main News Photo

 (Orange County Register)

As Orange County prepares for a partial return to public life and activities, county officials say they’re already meeting some state benchmarks that would allow them to accelerate the reopening of businesses and resuming public gatherings.

But the county falls short in other areas, and officials said some criteria that may work for smaller, rural counties are unrealistic for denser, more urban ones like theirs as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

County supervisors got a full rundown on Tuesday, May 12, on where they stand with respect to the markers Gov. Gavin Newsom announced recently, and they talked about seeking changes that would better fit Orange County’s profile.

Newsom explained the “Phase 2” that just began will provide for gradual reopening, starting with logistics and manufacturing businesses resuming operations and retail stores offering curbside pickup of purchase. Counties that “show greater progress” at quelling the virus can move more quickly toward reopening schools, child care and offices, as well as allowing limited hospitality and personal services and further relaxing rules on retail stores.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said the county’s hospital capacity meets the state guidelines, and her department has created the required set of metrics to determine whether to slow reopening, such as if there’s a spike in hospitalizations or deaths from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.

Orange County is partway to meeting other state requirements, but would need to perform more diagnostic tests, obtain more disinfectant supplies and medical protective gear and hire more workers to trace who may have been exposed to people infected with the coronavirus, Quick said.

Some county supervisors despaired of ever meeting the benchmark of having no COVID-19 deaths in a 14-day period. In the past two weeks, 30 county residents have died of the disease, Quick said.

The county has 75 contact tracers and plans to hire more as needed, but the state benchmark of 15 tracers per 100,000 residents works out to a total of 465.

Orange County’s public and private labs have the capacity to conduct far more than the 4,833 tests per day the state requires – that’s 1.5 tests per 1,000 residents – but officials said with case counts and deaths staying fairly low, that many tests aren’t needed right now.

“We’d have to just be pulling the average person off the street and saying we’re going to test you,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.

She questioned why Orange County, with its 3.2 million residents, would be held to the same standards as Alpine County, which census data estimated as having 1,129 residents in 2019.

“These are requirements that the big counties are never going to meet,” she said.

To address that, board chairwoman Supervisor Michelle Steel and her counterparts in Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties signed a letter asking to meet with Gov. Newsom to discuss tailoring some reopening metrics to more populous counties.

And, even though they don’t meet the state benchmarks as currently proposed, county CEO Frank Kim said, “nothing stops counties from submitting their own plan.”

Category: Business News, COVID-19, Economic News