Orange County’s Restricted Businesses Unlikely to Reopen Until Late March

March 3, 2021 Updated: March 3, 2021

Indoor gyms and theaters will likely reopen in Orange County later this month if the region’s COVID-19 metrics continue their downward trend.

Right now, Orange County falls under the state-mandated purple tier, meaning some of its nonessential businesses, fitness facilities, and theaters must remain closed. Restaurants can remain open to facilitate takeout orders or serve outdoor patrons.

To be promoted to the less-restrictive red tier, Orange County must have fewer than seven COVID-19 cases per 100,000, and a positivity rate of below eight percent. As of March 2, the county’s number was 7.6 cases per 100,000.

That’s not the only way to reach the tier; Orange County can accelerate into the category if its health equity quartile is two tiers below its current standing and below five percent. Orange County’s health equity quartile was exactly five percent on March 2. State numbers are updated each Tuesday, meaning the next review will come on March 9.

Orange County will likely reach red tier metrics next week, its chief executive Frank Kim said March 3 during a Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce Zoom session.

“We’re very close to that red tier; the cutoff for red tier is seven, and we’re dropping around half a point a day, although there’s been a bit of a plateau over the last two days,” Kim said. “That number is trending toward red, and I would expect that we will see red here next week. … We’ll have to see what it looks like.

“It’s not a promise, I don’t have a crystal ball, but if you look at the current trends, it’s likely that we’ll be below seven by next week.”

If Orange County lands in the red tier, it must remain within those parameters for an additional two weeks before loosened restrictions take effect, Kim said.

With March 9 being its next opportunity to move into the category, it means shuttered businesses will likely remain closed until at least March 23.

“There’s a 14-day clock,” Kim said. “Once you meet the metric, you’ve got to be in the metric for 14 consecutive days, and then on Day 15, you can drop and open all the activities that are in that new lower tier.”

Reopening Doors

When Orange County has been within the red tier threshold for three weeks, it will allow a number of businesses to reopen.

Movie theaters will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity. Restaurants will be permitted to operate indoors at 25 percent capacity. Indoor gyms and fitness studios can resume operations at 10 percent capacity.

Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce president Steve Rosansky said the wait to reopen has been a long one for local businesses.

“I think the government, or Gov. [Gavin] Newsom or the California Health officials are wanting to have a break on the thing, and not just keep jumping from one place to another, kind of easing into things [and] not rapidly reopening,” Rosansky said. “I guess there’s some logic to it but it is frustrating. I know many of my business members … are ready to reopen and bring customers back in, but we have this kind of drag on the approval process that allows them.”

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