Amid 2-day spike in coronavirus deaths, Orange County pushes for wider reopening

Signs hang at Citrus City Grille and Smoqued California BBQ in Orange as pedestrians walk by Thursday.
Signs hang at Citrus City Grille and Smoqued California BBQ in Orange as pedestrians walk by Thursday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

On the heels of a two-day spike in coronavirus-related deaths in Orange County, officials on Friday affirmed that they are pushing forward with a proposal to allow more businesses to reopen.

The county submitted its final documentation Thursday night outlining hospitalization rates, testing capacity and other benchmarks that state officials say need to be met before the region can move deeper into Stage 2 of reopening.

If the state agrees, restaurant dining rooms could welcome patrons and retail businesses would be permitted to open for in-store shopping with certain modifications. Hair and nail salons, gyms, bars and theme parks would remain closed.

Orange County leaders had expressed hope earlier in the week that more retailers would be able to reopen before the Memorial Day holiday. As of Friday afternoon, the county had not yet received approval by the state to move forward.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said this week that she believes the county has met all of the state’s criteria. Steel has frequently emphasized the importance of reopening storefronts quickly in an effort to jump-start to county’s economy, which has been cratered amid the pandemic.


“We welcome the opportunity to continue working together to monitor and respond to this unprecedented pandemic,” Steel wrote in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday. “Orange County is committed to working with the state to safely reopen the economy.”

Under prior restrictions, Orange County — and several other counties statewide — would not have been eligible for faster reopening since people are still dying from the virus in many communities.

Orange County public health officials on Friday reported six new coronavirus-related fatalities, bringing the county’s overall death toll to 118. The increase comes a day after the county recorded 14 fatalities — the most in a single day since the pandemic began — an uptick officials attributed to outbreaks in nursing homes.

Officials also reported an additional 108 cases of the virus Friday, bringing the total number of infections countywide to 4,941.

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in Orange County, including cases, deaths, closures and restrictions.

Despite the recent increase in fatalities, Orange County’s rate of deaths from the virus — 3 per 100,000 residents — is well below those of neighboring counties and the state overall.

“Taking all of these statistics into account, Orange County is in good condition as we continue to increase testing in our fight against this virus,” Steel said Thursday.

Under revised metrics unveiled by Newsom this week, counties are no longer barred from loosening shutdown rules based on their number of deaths.

Local leaders can 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.

Data submitted by Orange County this week show that 7.95% of residents tested for the virus in the past seven days were positive, coming in just under the state’s maximum.

Another factor the state considers 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.

Based on Orange County’s calculation, hospitalizations have increased by 0.91% on average over the last seven days.

Orange County’s Health Officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, said officials will continue to monitor coronavirus data and would be prepared to modify any reopening if they see unexplained spikes in infections, fatalities or “any other trigger that shows community transmission is beyond something we feel we have the resources to control.”

Kelly’s Korner Tavern remains open, in large part, because it has a secret weapon: honest-to-goodness delicious bar food.

Here’s the breakdown of coronavirus data for Orange County:

Age breakdown of cases

0-17 — 158
18-24 — 492
25-34 — 890
35-44 — 725
45-54 — 875
55-64 — 779
65-74 — 469
75-84 — 323
85+ — 229

Age breakdown of deaths

25-34 — 2
35-44 — 4
45-54 — 11
55-64 — 15
65-74 — 20
75-84 — 35
85+ — 31

The county has reported nearly 4,000 cases and 80 deaths and recorded its highest daily increase Thursday.

Cases by community

Aliso Viejo — 28
Anaheim — 770
Brea — 33
Buena Park — 147
Costa Mesa — 89
Coto de Caza — 6
Cypress — 61
Dana Point — 26
Fountain Valley — 52
Fullerton — 168
Garden Grove — 252
Huntington Beach — 310
Irvine — 166
La Habra — 87
La Palma — 18
Ladera Ranch — 13
Laguna Beach — 44
Laguna Hills — 28
Laguna Niguel — 36
Laguna Woods — 8
Lake Forest — 39
Los Alamitos — 63
Midway City — 12
Mission Viejo — 65
Newport Beach — 137
Orange — 233
Placentia — 96
Rancho Mission Viejo — 7
Rancho Santa Margarita — 19
San Clemente — 58
San Juan Capistrano — 47
Santa Ana — 885
Seal Beach — 16
Stanton — 55
Trabuco Canyon — 13
Tustin — 79
Villa Park — 6
Westminster — 87
Yorba Linda — 72
Other — 368
Unknown — 242

Note: “Other” category includes unincorporated areas, as well as cases in the county’s jails. Daily updates are preliminary and subject to change as the county receives new information.