Orange County Approved for Early Stage Reopening of Restaurants, Malls, More

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

Dining in restaurants and shopping inside malls and stores were given a green light in Orange County on Saturday, May 23, marking a major shift to normalcy after two months of staying at home to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration approved the county’s plan to expedite the latter phase of the state’s Stage 2 of reopening, the Orange County Board of Supervisors announced.

The supervisors also announced that everyone now is required to wear masks or face coverings in public places, while shopping or while at work. Masks must be worn when a person is not able to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others they don’t live with.

Restaurants and stores still are expected to keep safety protocols in place, such as social distancing and other hygiene practices to keep customers and employees safe.

Some workplaces, such as manufacturing and offices where working from home is not possible, also were approved to reopen, as were outdoor museums and other “limited personal services,” such as car washes, pet groomers, tanning salons, and gardening services.

Beauty salons and barbers, bars, sports venues, and movie theaters are among business sectors not yet allowed to reopen.

“The County of Orange has met the State’s latest metrics to remove its restrictions on the re-opening of more businesses,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel in a news release.

“Orange County issued guidelines for businesses to operate three weeks ago. With this attestation, it is our goal to ensure all Orange County businesses have the confidence to open as safely and as soon as possible without concerns about the state order,” Steel said.

On Monday, Newsom announced new criteria in response to push-back from counties that the state’s original reopening rubric was too strict and that many areas would remain stuck in the middle of Stage 2.

In a report to the state on Thursday, County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick wrote that Orange County met the new benchmarks, which includes a less than 5% change in hospitalizations over a week.

Quick calculated that Orange County’s coronavirus hospitalizations from May 12 to May 19 averaged out to a growth of about 1%.

The state also requires either fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks or a rate of positive tests at less than 8% over one week.

Quick verified that of more than 10,000 COVID-19 tests conducted in a week starting May 13, 7.95% were positive — barely meeting the state’s new standard.

Lucy Dunn, chief executive of the Orange County Business Council, said she was elated that more businesses would be able to reopen over the weekend, but cautioned that owners and managers still have to follow a strict set of protocols.

These include training employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 by checking themselves for symptoms and forming a site-specific plan that includes regular disinfection and physical distancing guidelines.

“We are not out of the woods,” she said. “Good business is also good health.”

Staffers at Glasspar, a restaurant in Dana Point, were ready to roll Saturday with plans to fulfill the state’s 90-point guideline for restarting dine-in service.

The restaurant has reorganized around fewer tables, spaced 6 feet apart. installed sanitizing stations and equipped staff with face shields, said spokeswoman Talia Samuels.

There will also be single-use menus.

But the restaurant won’t be open for dinner Saturday night. Chef and owner Rob Wilson still needs to order food and bring back staff; Glasspar is preparing to reopen by Thursday or Friday, Samuels said.

Of a dozen other restaurants Samuels represents, she said not a single one is ready to open this weekend.

Wing Lam, co-founder of the Wahoo’s Fish Taco chain, said his stores in Orange, San Clemente, Huntington Beach, Foothill Ranch, Los Alamitos, and Laguna Beach and two in Irvine would offer patio service Saturday. His other outlets will offer inside service soon.

Some eateries contacted by the Register expressed cautious optimism — managers were happy for the clearance to open, but need time to adhere to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines and ensure the safety of customers and staff.

Chef Florent Marneau, who runs the kitchen at Marché Moderne in Newport Beach with his wife, Amelia, questioned whether business will rebound in time to cover the costs of bringing back the entire staff.

“Will enough guests come to justify those costs? We want to really take all those concerns into consideration before we can re-open,” Marneau said.

Amar Santana, chef at both VACA in Costa Mesa and Broadway in Laguna Beach, echoed that sentiment.

“I am actually going to wait and see how it is going to go for other people,” Santana said.

Santana said it would take time to assess the readiness of staff after months apart.

“Are they OK? Do they have the virus? There are so many questions … we’d rather wait,” he said.

Heidi Miller, owner of Tight Assets women’s boutique in Laguna Beach, was glad to see shops reopening for walk-in customers because curbside pick-up has its limits.

“For my boutique stores, a barrier in front of the store for pick up only doesn’t work,” she said. “I’m a look, touch, try on, customer service driven business.”

Orange County malls remained closed Saturday afternoon; at the Outlets at Orange, visitors stopped by to grab take-out from the handful of open restaurants.

But with the news that Orange County malls could populate once again, South Coast Plaza announced it would reopen Monday, June 1.

“We are thrilled to learn that we are now allowed to reopen to the public. South Coast Plaza and its retailers and restaurants are ready with new social distancing measures and other significant protocols designed to provide a safe and welcoming shopping experience for our visitors,” said spokeswoman Debra Gunn Downing.

The staff at a handful of pet groomers contacted by a reporter on Saturday said they were too busy grooming to talk.


Category: COVID-19