Orange County cleared to reopen more businesses amid coronavirus restrictions

Orange County has been approved by the state to mount a more aggressive reopening of local businesses, officials announced Saturday. The county joins 45 others that have been cleared to resume in-restaurant dining and in-store shopping.

“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,” said county Supervisor Michelle Steel in a statement.

Orange County leaders were hopeful earlier in the week that more retailers would be able to reopen before the Memorial Day holiday, but businesses first had to put certain plans and precautions in place.

Before reopening, businesses must review state guidance relevant to their industry, prepare and implement a safety plan and post an industry-specific checklist in their workplaces, county officials said Saturday in a news release.

County health officials are also strongly recommending that businesses take other infection control precautions, like training employees on how to limit the spread of the virus and implementing screenings, disinfecting protocols and physical distancing guidelines.

“We understand that many businesses are hurting at this time and greatly want to re-open with as little issues as possible,” county Supervisor Don Wagner said in a statement.

“However, the State is requiring training and assessments to be done prior to opening. We ask that businesses work as best as they can to meet these guidelines.”

Orange County submitted its final documentation Thursday night outlining hospitalization rates, testing capacity and other benchmarks that state officials say need to be met in order to move into an accelerated Phase 2 of relaxing stay-at-home orders.

The state’s approval was made possible after Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday adjusted the requirements counties must meet to accelerate their reopening schedules. Most notably, Newsom announced that counties would no longer be kept from loosening stay-at-home rules if they have recorded COVID-19 deaths in the previous two weeks.

Local leaders can now move toward a more expansive reopening if they can show fewer than 25 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days, or show that fewer than 8% of residents tested for the virus over a seven-day period were positive.

Data submitted by Orange County this week show that 7.95% of residents tested for the virus in the past seven days were positive, coming in just under the state’s maximum.

Hospitalizations are another factor the state considers. Counties either have to show that the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals hasn’t increased by more than 5% over a seven-day period or that they haven’t had more than 20 hospitalizations on any single day over a 14-day period.

Based on Orange County’s calculation, hospitalizations have increased by 0.91% on average over the last seven days.

Under the prior state restrictions, Orange County — and several other counties statewide — would not have been eligible for faster reopening since people are still dying from the virus in many communities.

Orange County public health officials Friday reported six new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the county’s overall death toll to 118. More than a quarter of the fatalities were recorded in the three-day span that ended Friday, with 10 deaths recorded Wednesday and 14 Thursday. Before Wednesday, the county hadn’t reported more than five deaths in a single day.

Officials also reported an additional 108 cases of the virus Friday, bringing the total number of infections countywide to 4,941.

Other Southern California counties that have been cleared to move into an accelerated Phase 2 of reopening include Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Ventura counties.

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