SANTA ANA, Calif. - Orange County officials are working on a revision of an order from the county's chief health officer that led to confusion among some residents who thought they were being told to shelter in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick issued an order on Tuesday that prohibited gatherings and community events, but with exceptions for "essential activities." The order confused some residents and business leaders who thought they were being told to close down offices and stores.
Quick's order, however, involved prohibiting dining in at restaurants and closing the county's bars if they do not serve food. Restaurants were encouraged to remain open to serve customers food to go.
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"The health department order does not accurately reflect what Dr.Quick intended to order," Supervisor Don Wagner said. "We are working on revising it as we speak. People were reading the order to say non-essential businesses needed to shut down, and that is not in fact what was intended. The new order will make that clearer."
Wagner said he understood the confusion, saying some business leaders thought the prohibition on gatherings and events meant "you and your business office and you and a coworker unless you're an essential service.
A lot of people not in essential services worried if they went to work today would they be arrested, and that is not the intent." Wagner said county officials want businesses to practice social distancing and encourage telecommuting when possible. "And if you can't, let's be careful out there," Wagner said.
Quick's order was put in place until 11:59 p.m. on March 31 and could be extended.
It applies to "all professional, social, and community gatherings, regardless of their sponsor, that are not engaged in essential activities."
"Essential activities" include those involving government work, healthcare, first responders to emergencies, grocery stores and other businesses that sell necessities. It also includes news media services, other professionals such as plumbers, banks, transportation companies.
Childcare companies are mostly exempted, but services "must be carried out in stable groups," and the "children shall not change from one group to another."
Groups of children should be separated in different rooms and should not mix with one another and their supervisors must remain with only one group.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said there is as much economic anxiety as there is concern about health. He said his office was working with small businesses on how they can seek disaster assistance loans.
"How do we help businesses that are likely to go under," Chaffee said. Some business operators are wondering how they can pay the rent while shut down or restricted.
"It's more than just a healthcare crisis," Chaffee said. So far, 396 people have been tested with 29 diagnosed with the coronavirus in Orange County.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said three are hospitalized.
Nineteen are men, 10 are women. Of those, 14 are 18 to 49 years old, nine are 50 to 64 years old and six are 65 and older.
Fifteen cases were contracted while traveling, five got the virus from the person-to-person spread, eight fell under the "community-acquired" category, meaning officials are not certain how the patient got it. One case was listed as "under investigation."
Next week, the Orange County Transportation Authority board will meet via teleconference instead of in person, and there is some concern about how the agency will handle a decline in sales tax revenue as ridership dips.