O.C. hopes history doesn’t repeat itself as it anticipates reopening guidelines

A man wears a mask in Huntington Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County is expected to receive the green light for in-person learning at all schools just before Labor Day if it continues to remain off the state’s watchlist.

The county, which reported 369 COVID-19 cases and 29 related deaths Thursday, met the state’s six safety thresholds for case counts and hospitalizations last week. Removal from the list affects only a county’s ability to reopen schools, but the state is set to release new reopening guidelines Friday for how other business sectors could reopen.

“I believe that ... the new reopening framework will actually have a phased approach,” Orange County Health Care Agency Director and Public Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said during a news briefing Thursday. Chau said that he and other health officials advocated for this sector-by-sector approach to avoid the state’s previous blanket reopening in late May and early June that resulted in high COVID-19 infection rates.


State Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday that Labor Day was not an explicit factor in the new guidelines, but increases in transmission over the holiday do pose a concern as California continues to fight to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Previous spikes in the state were connected to holiday weekends. In Orange County, for example, mass gatherings at beaches over Memorial Day weekend were believed to have played some part in the spike in numbers.

Orange County has not taken any action to restrict beach access over the coming holiday, as Santa Barbara County has, but Chau stressed the need for people to remain at home and avoid the mixing of households.

“Stay home if you don’t need to be out,” he said, recommending that people opt for virtual parties over Skype or Facetime instead of in-person gatherings.

Chau was named acting public health officer after Dr. Nicole Quick resigned in June following backlash to her face-covering order. Chau — who had initially defended the order — dropped the county’s mandate, which enabled residents to forgo the use of face coverings.

Chau on Thursday defended that decision, which is believed to have contributed to the spike in county cases, since no such statewide mandate had existed at the time. Shortly after, he said that he spoke directly to state officials to implement such an order.

“I personally was the one who talked to the state about having it as a mandate,” Chau said. “If you remember correctly, after I pulled back the order ... a week later, the governor came down with a mandate.”


Over the last several weeks, local health officials have had ongoing conversations with state officials about updates to state guidelines and its watchlist, which came under scrutiny after use of it was suspended following a technical glitch with state’s electronic system that affected the gathering of test results.

“We do not calculate our own number — the state does it,” Chau said about numbers on the watchlist.