Is This a Bellwether for California? Orange County Votes to Reopen the County for Business

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Edit: Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett tweeted Tuesday night that the vote did not indicate business may open immediately. 

The Orange County, CA Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to begin reopening business activity across the county.


After a tense weekend of showdowns between protesters looking for beach access in the first heatwave of the year and Governor Gavin Newsom, who scolded beachgoers as irresponsible and threatened possible “aggressive” action, the five-member board voted 5-0 to reopen businesses in one of the state’s wealthiest counties. Chairwoman Michelle Steele said that the Board fully intends all recommendations to follow all guidelines recommended by the Orange County Health Department and that none of those will supersede any “conflicting or more restrictive orders issued by local governments, the State of California, or the Federal Government.” The very act of reopening businesses is certainly in violation of Newsom’s current “edicts” so it remains unclear exactly what Steele means by not “superseding” state orders. Presumably, while businesses may begin opening procedures, other things like large events, concerts, sports, and graduations will still be banned for the time being.

“Orange County has effectively “flattened the curve.”

“As we transition back to business as usual, we must do so in a manner that is conscious of the public health but also addressing the needs of businesses and their employees who need to put food on the table. When we talk about the business impact of COVID-19, we’re not just talking about money, we’re talking about people and their ability to provide for themselves and their families,” Chairwoman Steel said.


Fox 11 News reports that the  Board of Supervisors also released guidelines to help businesses open safely.

1. Scope. These guidelines do not supersede any conflicting or more restrictive orders issued by local governments, the State of California, or the Federal Government. These guidelines apply equally to businesses, houses of worship, entertainment and sports venues (including youth sports), and education providers, both public and private, and other organizations.

2. Sick, elderly, and vulnerable persons. Anyone who feels sick should remain at home. In addition, high-risk persons who are over 65 years of age, or suffering chronic illnesses, should continue to follow recommendations to stay at home and limit public interaction but should wear a face-covering out for medical and dental appointments, as needed.

3. Physical Distancing in the Workplace. Physical distancing of a minimum of six feet should be maintained between customer-facing employees and the general public, and – to the extent practical – between employee workstations. Where six feet of physical distancing between workstations is impractical, face coverings should be worn. Businesses are encouraged to allow telecommuting by employees when practical.

4. Handwashing, Personal Protective Equipment, and Testing. Employers doing business in Orange County should require all customer-facing employees every thirty minutes to either wash their hands or use hand sanitizer, or wear disposable gloves. Face coverings should be provided to all employees.

All employees, before starting a shift, should have their temperatures taken and not be permitted to work upon a temperature reading above 100.4 degrees.

Businesses should make every effort to limit touchpoints. Businesses should significantly increase the frequency of sanitizing workstations and equipment that come into contact with the general public. Face coverings and gloves should be worn by all customer-facing employees. Visitors to business establishments should also wear appropriate face coverings.

Physical barriers are preferred, if available, but are not required as the general public will make individualized decisions about which businesses to patronize. For the benefit of the public and employees, handwashing or hand sanitizing should be done as soon as possible following the handling of materials that come in contact with the general public.

5. County Facilities. Persons accessing County facilities, including County parks, beaches, and trails, should follow state guidance regarding physical distancing and the use of face coverings.

6. Vendor Compliance. Businesses should attempt to assure compliance with these guidelines by all vendors; failure of a vendor to adhere to these guidelines may subject the vendor to law enforcement action.

7. Further Action as Necessary. The Orange County Board of Supervisors reserves the right to modify these guidelines as circumstances warrant.


One of the most notable provisions is “physical barriers”…they are encouraged but ultimately the Board recognizes that it is up to customers to decide for themselves which businesses they feel comfortable patronizing.

That sounds like progress.

Supervisor Don Wagner told Fox11 that the guidelines had been hammered out over many hours and weeks of meetings, but the Board felt it necessary to begin letting Orange County get back to business. To date, in a population of 3.1 million, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Orange County stands at 2,151 including 42 deaths with 74 currently being treated in ICU.

Supervisor Wagner added, “These guidelines were put together over many long meetings to ensure that all industry representatives, medical professionals, and our legal counsel had input in order to best reflect business needs while simultaneously keeping in line with public health recommendations.

”The latest data shows the County has had a significant increase in layoffs and unemployment claims. With the curve trending down and OC healthier than surrounding counties, we don’t want to trade one problem for a bigger problem,” he said.

It remains to be seen if Governor Newsom will have a reaction to the announcement at his daily press briefing on Wednesday. As recently as Monday, he had been criticizing Orange County beachgoers and threatened the possibility of “aggressive action” if they continued to defy Stay-at-Home orders. However, on Tuesday Newsom indicated he may be in favor of California students returning to school early this summer. Newsom may be seeing the writing on the wall. Time will tell.



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