OC off watchlist; business leaders shift to high gear

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Editor’s note: This story focuses on restaurants. Look for stories about other local industries in future editions of The Sun as Orange County — at least for now —comes off the state’s coronavirus watchlist. Also, look for updates on the Sun’s website as Gov. Gavin Newsom gives updates.

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Aug. 23 announcement that Orange County had been taken off the coronavirus watchlist, Seal Beach restaurant owners and Chamber of Commerce leaders shifted to high gear to get to the promised land: safe indoor dining.

Chamber President Kori DeLeon was working her cell all week — talking to Rep. Harley Rouda, State Sen. Tom Umberg, other chamber members, restaurateurs and patrons.

On many people’s minds: When can locals sit inside O’Malley’s, Spaghettini, 320 Main, Yalla Mediterranean and other popular spots and enjoy meals and drinks?

There’s hope, DeLeon said, but hang tight. They’re waiting word.

“As of Tuesday, there was no direction by state or county as far as indoor eating being OK’d,” she said. “My understanding is there is no absolute date.”

In other words, getting taken off the watchlist is only a step. With so many moving parts and strict coronavirus- regulations, it can be dizzying.

Here’s what we know: 1) Gov. Newsom was scheduled to issue guidelines on Aug. 26 (after the Sun’s deadline); 2) A county must stay off the watchlist for at least 14 days before restaurants can open indoor dining and other “non-critical” businesses can resume indoor operations.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly held a press conference this week in which he reiterated Gov. Newsom’s policy of requiring counties to stay off the watchlist for 14, and sometimes 21, days before non-critical businesses can fully reopen. He also emphasized that the requirements may differ from business sector to business sector.

Criteria used to determine opening or closing Orange County — or what Deleon calls “the dimmer switch” — are as follows: 1) New coronavirus cases per 100,000 people (fewer than 100 for 14 straight days is good), test positivity rates (less than 8 percent for seven straight days is good), and hospitalizations.

DeLeon said restaurateurs have told her they’d like as much lead-time as possible before the state green-lights indoor dining.

Why?

Planning, planning, planning. That means inventory, staffing, scheduling, making the environment coronavirus-safe and more.

She also urged locals to “do your part, whatever your views on facial coverings and social distancing, are. We don’t want to see our businesses closing again when the dimmer switch goes down.”

Seal Beach restaurants have suffered during the pandemic. Many on Main Street and elsewhere in the city have rapidly altered their service models, amping up takeout efforts, creating outdoor dining in “parklets” and offering catering.

In turn, this has helped retail; customers often cluster shop, meaning they’ll grab a bite to eat, then get a haircut, then go shopping. Or … reverse-order.

Other eateries, such as Nick’s Deli and Charo Chicken, were engineered for quick pickup, making the transition a bit smoother.

Nick’s owner Nick Zampino said his delis in Seal Beach and Los Alamitos are doing about 70 percent of the business they did pre-coronavirus.

He’s not planning to open indoor operations this year.
“I don’t see it,” he said. “I want to keep my employees safe. They have homes, mortgages, kids in school. Maybe next year.”

Orange County saw 365 new cases of COVID-19 on Aug. 25, 15 new deaths, and 385 people currently hospitalized, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. In all, Orange County had seen 46,642 cases, 912 deaths and 38,450 recoveries.

Seal Beach had reported 248 cases, and Los Alamitos 146.