Orange County bans gatherings of any size, closes bars, and limits restaurants to curb coronavirus spread: Order issued by O.C. Health Officer, Mar. 17

Source: Orange County Register

Orange County bars, breweries and wineries were ordered to close, restaurants were told to offer take-out or delivery only, and people were told not to gather starting Tuesday, March 17, to curb transmission of the coronavirus.

An order Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick issued Tuesday prohibits public and private gatherings of any size – not including families that live together – and lasts through March 31.

It exempts people and businesses performing “essential activities” including emergency responders, health care providers, grocery stores, banks, gas stations and homeless shelters.

“This is not a lockdown,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said in a statement.

“The public health order issued today simply follows existing state directives. The order, according to state guidelines, prohibits public, private, social and work gatherings. Businesses are allowed to open, but must practice social distancing (six-foot separation).”

After a flurry of questions and concerns about the initial order, county officials sent out more information Tuesday evening to explain it does not call for people to “shelter in place,” and that other than the changes for bars and restaurants, businesses can continue to operate while following social distancing protocols. They said people should read the full order, which was being amended for clarity.

The county order allows fines or jail time for those who violate it, but Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he’s told police chiefs to have officers use their best judgment, asking people to disperse if needed before taking more punitive steps.

Our first and foremost job is to protect people from the spread of the virus. It is not to arrest good citizens who find themselves in technical violation of the order,” Spitzer said. “If people are talking outside Starbucks, I’m not going to prosecute.”

Public health experts know the contagious virus is transmitted from person to person, so county officials are trying to limit contact between people, especially in groups, as much as possible, OC Health Care Agency Director Richard Sanchez told supervisors Tuesday morning.

As of Tuesday (March 17) evening, Orange County officials were reporting 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of seven cases since the previous day. Supervisors were told earlier in the day that three of the affected people had been hospitalized.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is a respiratory illness that can be severe or even fatal, though it typically produces milder flu-like symptoms. Older people and those with other health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill.

The county’s directive follows similar steps by Los Angeles city and county. Quick told supervisors that the order follows the recent guidelines from the White House recommending residents avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, and a directive from Gov. Gavin Newsom that bars, wineries and breweries should be closed and restaurants should limit dining room capacity.

Some of the county’s largest employers and gathering places, including Disneyland and UC Irvine, already have pared down staffing or closed.

What Orange County’s order calls for:

Starting Tuesday, March 17, and through March 31, people should not hold public or private gatherings of any size.

Bars, wineries and breweries that don’t serve food must close, and restaurants must offer take-out or delivery only, no dine-in service.

Businesses are encouraged to let employees work from home, and those who work in offices or other establishments should stay six feet away from each other.

The order doesn’t apply to families or other people who share a household, and it exempts people and businesses carrying out “essential activities,” such as emergency response, healthcare, grocery stores, banks, gas stations and homeless shelters.

People who are 65 and older or have health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease should stay home; those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 should isolate themselves from others unless they need medical care.

Full text of the Orange County Health Officer’s Order

Full text of the Orange County Register article: