Orange County's Reopening May Be Just Days Away
Friday, May 15, 2020
Orange County is just days away from unveiling a possible road map for lifting some coronavirus-related restrictions, a top health official said on May 12.
Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, told the Board of Supervisors that he would “submit to you a comprehensive plan on reopening and how to do that” on May 14.
Those guidelines, which Chau did not detail, would be presented to the board “so you can make your decision” as to whether to adopt them, he added.
Chau’s pledge comes as county supervisors, and dozens of residents who turned out to lobby them, are itching to relax restrictions that were imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and to reopen businesses and public spaces.
Given the economic havoc wreaked by such regulations — particularly California’s stay-at-home order — critics say it’s vital to loosen the rules and get the economy moving again. That’s especially true, some say, given how the coronavirus situation has unfolded in Orange County.
“I think it’s time to open up,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel. “Maybe it’s too late. It’s going to be very tough to catch up.”
As of May 13 the county has confirmed 3,749 COVID-19 cases and 80 deaths. Officials also reported a new high for coronavirus hospitalizations, saying there are 248 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in the county.
Of those who have tested positive for the virus, 400 were in skilled nursing homes and 322 are Orange County jail inmates, according to county data.
When adjusted per 100,000 residents, the county’s documented infection rate is notably lower than that of neighboring urban counties, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker.
Orange County’s observed mortality rate associated with COVID-19, roughly 2.1%, also is well below the statewide rate of about 4%.
“People really want to get back to work. Businesses want to open up again,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. “And we need to have a plan that’s driven by public health and safety protocols so that our public feels safe.”
That’s not to say the county is “going to just continue moving forward and have a huge spike of COVID-19,” she said. “We’re going to act responsibly.”
Supervisors also unanimously signed off sending a proposed letter that — should their counterparts in San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties agree — would request a joint meeting with the governor “to identify strategies for achieving a safe, reasonable and sustainable reopening of our economy in coordination with the state.”
“I think there is strength in numbers, and I hope the governor will listen to this clarion call … which is, ‘Do the right thing, move ahead cautiously but open up the economy,’” said Supervisor Andrew Do. “Don’t wait until the time when people are so desperate and so angry that you’ll have full-scale insurrection.”
While Newsom has outlined criteria counties must meet if they want to reopen faster than the state, Orange County officials said some of those thresholds are onerous, if not unreachable, for more urban areas.
A Times data analysis last week found that 95% of Californians live in counties that don’t meet just two criteria: the cessation of COVID-19 deaths in the previous 14 days, and no more than one case per 10,000 residents in that same time period.
Given the differences between urban and rural reaches of the state, Orange County officials said, it makes sense to craft criteria that are regionally specific.
“We are doing this because, even though the governor has said one size doesn’t fit all, he is very much imposing a one-size-fits-all response,” said Supervisor Don Wagner.