State puts Orange County back in purple tier

LAUSD schools unaffected; restaurants will go to outdoor dining only

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Businesses on Main Street (and throughout California) brace for the economic impact of the tightened pandemic restrictions imposed by the state this week. Staff photo

The governor on Monday, Nov. 16, put Orange County, along with 27 other counties, back in the purple tier. That is currently the most restrictive set of pandemic-related rules for activities in California. The rise in reported COVID-19 cases was cited as the reason for the governor’s actions.

During a Tuesday press conference, Orange County Board of Supervisor Vice Chair Andrew Do said to limit gatherings to two households and if possible to celebrate outdoors.

“We believe that testing is an important part of safe COVID practices,” Do said.

Do pointed out that 11,000 PRC COVID-19 tests will be available at community clinics in Santa Ana and Anaheim.

Do said it takes two or three days for COVID-19 to manifest.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee described the tests as saliva tests. Chaffee said test results may comeback within two or three days.

The Seal Beach Police Department and Los Alamitos Unified School announced the change in Orange County’s status on social media on Monday afternoon.

“Wear a mask where appropriate where you can’t socially distance,” he said.

Do said the program will be funded by CARES Act money. He also anticipated another round of stimulus finds approved by Congress, particularly with the increase of COVID cases throughout the nation.

Do said the county doesn’t know what the impact will be on the budget.

As she was listening to the county press conference, Seal Beach Mayor Schelly Sustarsic emailed the Sun and reported that the Board of Supervisors on that day had voted to “establish Cold Weather Grants for restaurants. This would apparently allow for $1 Million in Cares Act money to be used — $1,000 per business to purchase outdoor heaters, lights and canopies between November 16th and December 23rd.”

Some online comments on the county’s Facebook page suggested cases were increasing because testing had increased. Other posts questioned the validity of the testing. Yet others objected to the restrictions.

Do said all samples that test positive will be retained and audited. He said the tests have been approved by the FDA.

In response to a question about rule enforcement, Do said enforcement on something like this is something that is seldom discussed in an intelligent way. He said different agencies have limited jurisdiction to what they can enforce. He said he could only speak for the limited scope of the Orange County Health Care Agency and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Dr. Clayton Chou, director of the Health Care Agency, advised anyone who did not feel well to stay home and not participate in gatherings. Chou expected to update youth sports guidelines this week. Chou said the saliva test is new. “This is a new approach,” he said. Dr. Chou expressed the opinion that having people take the test at home would be best.

Dr. Chou, addressing the issue of enforcement, advised reporters to submit the question to “Molly,” apparently a reference to Public Information Manager Molly Nichelson. Supervisor Vice Chair Do also referred reporters to “Molly.”

The news of the change wasn’t a complete surprise to anyone in Seal Beach. “I know a lot of businesses are very frustrated that we’ve gone back to purple,” said Rob Jahncke, president of the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce and owner of Javatinis Espresso.

Police Chief Phil Gonshak warned the council last week that Orange County might go back to the purple tier this week.

“But last week I saw that all of our surrounding counties were purple and we were still red and I kind of saw it coming,” said Jahncke during a Nov. 17 phone interview.

“My heart goes out to Walt’s [Wharf] because they just opened up,” he said.

“They’re going to have to adjust and get their outdoor seating up,” he said.

The iconic Walt’s Wharf restaurant reopened late last week. On Tuesday, employees were observed setting up tables and chairs in the Walt’s parklet facing Main Street. However, later in the afternoon the tables and chairs were gone; the restaurant was dark.

“The one light at the end of the tunnel is that there’s a vaccine coming out,” Jahncke said.

District One Councilman Joe Kalmick, whose district includes Main Street’s business area, said, “Thank goodness we’ve established the parklets so the restaurants can at least still be in operation, as difficult as it’s going to be having lost the ability to serve anyone inside.”

He expressed hope that the Seal Beach community, and other Orange County communities, would work toward wearing masks and social distancing so that the county can get back to red.

OC Supervisor and Congresswoman-elect Michelle Steel did not agree with the governor’s decision.

“Today’s unilateral move by Governor Newsom is troubling and harmful to Orange County families who need to put food on the table, to small businesses struggling to stay open, and to the mental health of our community. These actions continue to erode trust in government. While rates of depression and other mental health issues continue to rise due to these shutdowns, Orange County’s hospital capacity is solid, and our positivity rate is still in the Orange Tier. I have strongly advocated for a regional approach with greater local control to allow our dedicated local health agencies to work together with the local medical community and develop plans to fight the virus. Instead of combatting COVID-19 in a thoughtful manner, this one-size fits-all approach threatens the livelihoods of our residents,” Steel said in a statement issued Monday.

The Orange County Business Council advised businesses that “Shopping centers must reduce capacity to 25 percent and restaurants cannot offer indoor service.”

The covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy website said that grocery stores in counties in the purple tier may open “with modifications” at a maximum 50% capacity.

The state website also reports that places of worship in purple tier counties may open only for outdoor worship.

The Business Council also reported: “People arriving in California from other states or countries should self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival and all residents are encouraged to avoid nonessential travel outside their region.”

According to the Orange County Operational Area Emergency Operations Center, schools that have not yet reopened will have to remain online.

Even though the Purple Tier designation imposes restrictions on businesses and various social activities, it does not affect the instructional program in the Los Alamitos Unified School District. According to California Department of Public Health guidelines, schools such as LAUSD that have already resumed in-person instruction can remain open with necessary precautions already in place. It is important to keep in mind that this guidance could be subject to change, said District Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver.

The county and the state continue to tell the public that they must keep 6 feet away from one another and avoid crowds.

The state is also tightening face covering guidelines, according to a statement from the Governor’s Office.

David N. Young contributed to this story.