The San Clemente City Council ended the COVID-19 emergency declaration with a 3–2 vote on Aug. 17, nearly 17 months after its implementation.
Mayor Pro Tem Gene James led the motion to end the local emergency ordinance to return the city to a sense of normalcy.
“The Chinese Communist Party unloaded this nightmare on us. Whether they did it through ineptitude or malice, either way, they did it and they lied about it. It is going to stick with us for a long time. There is always going to be a different variant on the horizon. We have the obligation to return to some normalcy in our life,” James said during the Aug. 17 council meeting.
Other cities in Orange County have removed their local emergency order, including Laguna Woods, Fullerton, Laguna Niguel, and Yorba Lina, among others.
Meanwhile, both the state and county’s emergency orders remain in place.
Mayor Kathy Ward and Councilman Chris Duncan opposed ending the local emergency declaration.
“I have concerns with the [Delta] variant. I might have looked at this before, when all the cases were down, were low. Now with the variant, I think all bets are off the table,” Ward said during the council meeting.
“The Delta variant is highly contagious, more contagious than the previous variants. Whether it has the same adverse effects is a different thing,” Duncan said.
“I worry about the city staff too, and I think we have to be very concerned with that. I certainly would like to think of creative options to allow the public to feel like they can access our city hall, that we’re not locked down.”
Currently, city hall is open on an appointment-only basis. City Manager Erik Sund informed the council that ending the local emergency declaration doesn’t change the restricted entry into the building.
“From an employee perspective, there’s still a concern of exposure. My only want would be to control the numbers coming into city hall so that we don’t have a large group gathering,” Sund said.
“We’re a little bit staff-short. So, having a large crowd could create some frustration because there’s not staff there to assist them.”
Sund noted there were 13 city employees in quarantine due to testing positive for or being exposed to COVID-19.
“There are employees who were vaccinated who were getting infected and there were employees who were unvaccinated and getting infected,” he said.
Councilwoman Laura Ferguson said that while city hall remains “closed,” exempting appointments, “there’s not a city hall around that isn’t open.”
Ferguson suggested reopening city hall with plexiglass around the council members’ desks. However, no direction was given to reopen the municipal building.
Despite the council’s decision to end the local emergency order, Sund maintained his role as the city’s emergency services director.
When California’s Blueprint to Reopen the Economy ended on June 15, the capacity limits and distancing requirements ended, while a modified mask mandate was implemented based on vaccination status.
However, since the state has reopened its economy, an increasing number of COVID-19 cases have led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health to recommend masking indoors regardless of vaccination status at the end of July.