Orange County entered the “widespread” purple tier as the hospital-capacity triggered stay-home-order was lifted across California last month after new projections from the California Department of Public Health illustrated that intensive care units (ICUs) would exceed the minimal 15% capacity over the next four weeks.
Under the purple tier of the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy, restaurants and bars that serve food can open outdoor dining, gyms can open outdoors, places of worship can have outdoor service, outdoor playgrounds are open and many stores including swap meets can operate under limited capacity.
“We are in a position, projecting four weeks forward, with a significant decline in case rates, positivity rates,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference last week. “We are anticipating more decline in hospitalizations and more declines in ICUs, and that’s why we’re lifting the stay-at-home order effective immediately today.”
The ICU capacity of the Southern California region currently remains at 9.1%, although four-week projections predict 43.7%. In order for Orange County to move to the red “substantial” tier and open more indoor businesses, there would need to be less than an 8% positivity rate on all COVID-19 tests and less than 7 positive cases per every 100k residents each day.
“The calculations that we look at with the blueprint and the moving tiers are actually about transmission in communities or in counties today,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a press conference. “We use that to evaluate how prepared a county is to move into a less strict tier.”
During the week of Feb. 2, Orange County had a daily average of a 10.9% positivity rate and 39 positive cases per 100k residents (over 1,000 cases daily), as well as 30 COVID-19-related deaths on Friday alone.
“California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been hoping for,” Dr. Ghaly said.
California’s alleviation of COVID-19 restrictions comes as three new variants of the disease have been detected across the United States. Variant B.1.1.7, which emerged from the United Kingdom., is the only variant detected in California with an estimated 145 cases and is “associated with increased transmissibility,” the CDC said.
Although earlier reports showed no signs that the variant caused increased severity, a study conducted by scientists in the U.K. produced evidence associating it with increased death risk. Further research is still needed to confirm these findings.
“Anytime you get a mutated germ [or] a mutated virus, […] the variant creates another unknown, and we don’t know enough about it yet,” Dr. Gahly said. “The only thing I can tell you about these numbers is they aren’t not a true reflection of what’s out there. My guess, and many peoples’ guess, is it’s much higher than this, and we’ll be looking for it.”
The California stay-at-home order, which was enacted on Dec. 5, created difficulty and frustration for some local business owners.
Jeffrey Chon, who owns several restaurants in Costa Mesa and Newport such as The Wayfarer and Tabu Shabu, responded to the order by posting a video in which he criticized the broad regulations for unequally hindering the restaurant industry and small businesses.
“Anything that could reasonably slow the spread of this virus was a good thing. However, what once made sense has now become unreasonable,” Chon said. “The rules and regulations have become backwards as they continue to support big-box retailers and large companies deemed essential while offering no support for small businesses.”
Following the December announcement, many government officials also openly criticized the stay-at-home order.
“We know how to protect ourselves, but shutdowns unfairly criminalized normal human behavior while leaving many people unprotected; vulnerable without income, shelter, mental wellness, or their dashed lifelong dreams,” Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said on Facebook.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes announced that the OCSD would not enforce the December order.
“To put the onus on law enforcement to enforce these orders against law-abiding citizens who are already struggling through difficult circumstances, while at the same time criticizing law enforcement and taking away tools to do our jobs, is both contradictory and disingenuous,” Sheriff Barnes said in a statement.
Supervisor Wagner supported the reopening of businesses and said restaurants should have never been limited so drastically. He criticized the regulations and said that “the uncertainty is what is driving everyone crazy.” On social media, he continues to support further deregulations, such as on indoor church services and youth sports competitions.
Kallen Hittner is a City News Intern for the 2021 winter quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.