ORANGE, Calif.—Leaders from across Orange County held a news conference in the City of Orange on Sept. 4 to call for the expedited reopening of county businesses and schools as the county moves closer to making it a reality.
Standing in Old Towne Orange's Plaza Park, County Supervisor Donald Wagner, Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill, and Lake Forest City Councilman Dwight Robinson addressed the state's strategy for reopening and called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to loosen restrictions they said were hurting Orange County residents.
“We've seen the governor now come up with three different iterations of how the state deals with COVID, and how we get the state reopen. Every one of those efforts has failed,” Wagner said.
Wagner said the strategies for reopening have lurched from one to the other “without a change in science.” He urged the crowd of about 40 people to sign an “OpenCALNow” petition to allow local leaders to determine reopening strategies.
Newsom introduced a new “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” on Aug. 28 which included a statewide color-coded tier system for reopening based on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and percentage of positive tests.
“The Blueprint builds on lessons learned from the first six months of the disease—and the new scientific understanding that has been collected—to create a new system for regulating movement and COVID-19 transmissions,” the release stated.
Based on the metrics, Orange County was placed in the purple, or "widespread," tier. Orange County health officials were told on Sept. 4 that the county is expected to move up to the red, or "substantial," tier by Sept. 8 as it has met the state's metrics for two weeks.
Wagner addressed inconsistencies in the new rating system, saying that San Francisco, with a higher number of cases per 100,000 than Orange County, had already progressed to the red tier.
“What have they got besides a worst case rate? The governor used to be their mayor,” he said.
Newport Beach Mayor O’Neill addressed the discrepancy between private and public school reopenings.
“Here in Orange County, over 100 private schools have already gotten to the point where they've been allowed to reopen. But our kids in public schools are still closed. Why? We still don't know,” O’Neill said.
“We need to be able to trust our parents. We need to be able to trust our teachers. We need to be able to trust our school boards. We need to give parents a choice. That's what we've been denied.”
O’Neill also criticized the new color-coded system, saying Orange County “would have to average less than 30 cases a day” to reopen.
“Even with a vaccine, there's no guarantee we get to that point. And it still doesn't fully reopen our economy,” O’Neill said.
Councilman Robinson said, “All businesses are essential, every single business,” in calling for the state to allow them to fully reopen.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who did not attend the gathering in Orange, said she was encouraged by decreasing case rates in the county.
"This significant move to the red tier for Orange County indicates that we are hopefully getting the upper hand on COVID-19," Bartlett said.
"Our numbers are holding steady or declining, we still have excess capacity in our hospital system, and as long as we all continue to follow prescribed health and safety guidelines our trend should keep improving in the county,” she said.
“I look forward to cautiously opening up our local economy so we experience some level of normalcy once again [in] our day-to-day lives."
Under the red tier, the county will be able to reopen movie theaters and restaurants for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity and churches for indoor worship at 25 percent capacity.
Shopping centers may expand from 25 percent capacity to half capacity under the red tier.
Orange County health officials on Sept. 4 reported 313 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, along with 24 deaths related to the disease.
The new deaths increased the county's overall fatalities to 1,042, while a total of 49,258 cases have been confirmed in the county since the pandemic began.