Orange County hopes to open malls, restaurants, other retail soon

Families practice social distancing while playing near the San Clemente Pier on Monday.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

The day after Gov. Gavin Newsom cracked the door for more counties to potentially lift additional coronavirus-related restrictions, Orange County officials made it clear that they want to get through as quickly as possible.

Officials hope to see larger parts of the retail economy — including shopping malls and restaurants — reopen with social distancing restrictions as soon as possible.

While health officials said they are still planning how to move further into what the state calls Phase 2, members of the Board of Supervisors said Tuesday that time is of the essence.

“We can put together a plan, and I’m still keeping my fingers crossed,” said Supervisor Andrew Do. “I’m hoping that by this weekend, we’re going to enter Phase 2 fully.”


Doing so would mean shopping malls could reopen, for instance, as could restaurant dining rooms — albeit with modifications.

Conceding that more California counties are in a position to slowly reopen businesses, Gov. Gavin Newsom loosened his coronavirus benchmarks.

Even if Orange County doesn’t meet the exact letter of all the new reopening rules, which Newsom unveiled Monday, officials emphasized their preference is still to send a plan to the state as quickly as possible.

“To the extent that perfect is the enemy of the good, we don’t want to let that happen,” said Supervisor Don Wagner. “If we need to supplement, let’s supplement.”

The focus, he added, should be: “Let’s open as much as possible. Let’s open as soon as possible. Let’s open as safely as possible.”

Newsom said the loosened rules would allow 53 of California’s 58 counties to move further into the second of four stages toward reopening.

The relaxed restrictions were welcomed by larger urban counties that had decried the state’s previous criteria as onerous, if not unattainable, for more populous areas.

Under the revised metrics, counties will no longer be kept from loosening the shutdown rules if there have been COVID-19 deaths in the previous two weeks.

Counties also will be able to move toward a more expansive reopening if they can show fewer than 25 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days, or show that fewer than 8% of residents tested for the virus over a seven-day period were positive.

The changes to California’s criteria for reopening mean that the vast majority of counties — roughly 53 of 58, by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s estimation — can move further into the second of four stages toward reopening, if they so choose.

Another factor is hospitalizations. Counties either have to show that the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals hasn’t increased by more than 5% over a seven-day period or that they haven’t had more than 20 hospitalizations on any single day over a 14-day period.

Orange County officials did not comment on the new rules Monday — except to say that they would “be in touch after we have had time to review the governor’s announcement” — and did not immediately respond Tuesday when asked whether there are metrics the county doesn’t meet.

Given that so many more counties can now petition the state to further relax coronavirus restrictions, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said it’s important for Orange County to submit a plan as quickly as possible so it secures a favorable position in the queue.

“We’ve got to really kind of turn the ship around as quickly as possible,” she said.

That’s especially the case as the pandemic continues to keep many storefronts closed — which, in turn, has dammed the county’s revenue stream.

As of April 17, the county projected it would lose $126.1 million in revenue this fiscal year because of COVID-19, according to projections discussed Tuesday. Next fiscal year, the chasm is projected to deepen to $332.4 million.

While those figures are not set in stone — changes to California’s overall budget picture and potential further support from the federal government are among the contributing factors — officials said it’s clear there will be challenging times ahead.

California’s state government faces a $54-billion budget deficit through next summer, according to an analysis released Thursday.

“The sole reason for economic difficulties in this time is that businesses have been shut down and employees have been laid off,” said board Chairwoman Michelle Steel. “If we support businesses and get them open as fast as possible, that will boost our economy and, most importantly, provide essential jobs — because every private-sector job is essential ... to struggling Orange County residents who have lost their work and their ability to put food on the table because of this crisis.”

Times staff writers John Myers, Taryn Luna and Phil Willon contributed to this report.