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Coronavirus cases in Orange County jump to 42; officials clarify restrictions

Two people wearing face masks
Dr. Dallas Weaver, 79, left, and his wife, Janet Weaver, 75, on the Huntington Beach Pier on Wednesday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County had 42 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday up from 29 on Tuesday.

Orange County Health officer Dr. Nichole Quick said she anticipated that number would increase.

“The more we look for this, the more we’re likely to find, so increasing cases are not unexpected,” Quick said.

Orange County leaders held a news conference to clarify the health order issued Tuesday and calm local business owners who had expressed confusion about whether they were being forced to close.

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“There has been confusion about the wording and meaning of yesterday’s public health order, but let me make it very clear — Orange County is not on lockdown and, except for businesses directed to close by the state, all businesses can remain open,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said.

After the release of Tuesday’s health order, many residents and members of the media thought officials were announcing a shelter-in-place order, which many Bay Area counties have implemented.

At Wednesday’s news conference, local leaders stressed that was not their intent and that there is no shelter-in-place order in the county. Rather, residents are asked to avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing and good hand hygiene, among other things.

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Local leaders repeatedly stressed that Orange County was business friendly and that the sheriff had no intention of sending out deputies to patrol the streets looking to jail merchants.

The hope, officials said, is that local businesses that must close under the county order — all bars that don’t serve food, movie theaters, gyms and health clubs — will voluntarily follow the order. Restaurants, food trucks and farmers markets must only offer food through delivery, pickup or drive-through while also practicing the recommended six-foot space for social distancing.

“The most important point to make, I think, is that Orange County is not shut down for business. We are asking for all of our citizens to be responsible in how you’re interacting out in the community,” Supervisor Donald Wagner said.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said of all the days to announce bars were closed, St. Patrick’s Day was a good test to see how businesses and patrons would react.

Barnes said deputies did find some bars still operating, but they were able to resolve each incident without issue.

“I think even the patrons there, as much as they wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, realized this was much bigger than one day a year,” Barnes said.

Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said in response to the pandemic, firefighters and paramedics going on calls to help someone thought to possibly have the coronavirus are being supplied with protective gear. Additionally, the agency has been better able to protect personnel because dispatchers are asking callers more questions about COVID-19 and supplying that information to first responders.

While on duty, 20 firefighters have been exposed to someone thought to possibly have COVID-19, but thus far, only one Orange County firefighter has been exposed to a person with a confirmed case. That firefighter is self-isolating at a hotel, he said.

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The order was already changing life in Orange County.

In Huntington Beach, Sandy Lopez cut a lonely figure along the boardwalk, where on Wednesday, before cooking dinner with family members at home in Santa Ana, she sneaked out, escaping to the ocean for a long-awaited walk.

“I need space to think, you know. The world is racing by, and I’m confused with so many people saying do this, do that, don’t do this or that,” said the office clerk, whose hours had been reduced at a real estate business. “Information is changing every day, and I want to be by myself to think through it. First, we heard that Orange County has a curfew. But I found out I misheard that, but there could be a curfew — maybe, next week. Who can predict? I don’t know where it’s safe to go, so I thought, let’s just go to the beach.”

Lopez, 29, stood yards away from the famed Surf City Pier, about to snap some selfies to share with East Coast friends. “They’re stuck, too, but at least I have access to the water,” she said.

Lopez lives with her parents and a younger sibling. While her mother and diabetic father must remain indoors under medical advice, she and her sister plan to take turns standing in line weekly for groceries. They are eating more soup, less fried food and trying to stay away from too many sweets — all for the sake of their health.

She isn’t a cook but has started to watch the Food Channel to find tips and inspiration for quick meals. Her mom usually takes care of kitchen stuff, she said, adding: “I am so used to just driving a few blocks to the taqueria to grab some snacks — but again, I don’t know where it’s safe.”


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