Riding the ups and downs of O.C. coronavirus trends, South Coast Plaza reopens — again

Jeff Luckey, left, and Tarique Lusk shop during the reopening of South Coast Plaza on Monday in Costa Mesa.
(Scott Smeltzer / Times Community News)

Leslee Effler had come to the South Coast Plaza Macy’s on Monday morning to shop for some items for her daughter’s wedding, when she noticed a cluster of media vans outside in the parking lot near the mall’s entrance.

“I asked someone if something bad happened,” she said, “and they said, ‘No, something good happened.’”

What the Irvine resident heard was music to her ears: South Coast Plaza was indeed open again.

After several months of being mostly closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Costa Mesa’s upscale indoor shopping mall was open and ready for business.


“I had to run out and take a picture to say welcome back, my long-lost friend,” she said, snapping pics on her cellphone from a second-floor overlook to share on social media. “When I die, I want my ashes spread here.”

California has so far reported 3,707 deaths in August, amid signs of steady progress in reducing infections, hospitalizations and deaths, data show.

Mall officials, employees and those who know what South Coast Plaza’s sales tax revenues mean for the city’s financial picture were no less joyful about the grand reopening, which will see the return of more than 100 boutique stores this week, followed by more soon.

Leslee Effler of Irvine takes pictures of the Jewel Court in South Coast Plaza.
Leslee Effler of Irvine takes pictures of the Jewel Court in South Coast Plaza on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Times Community News)

“We are certainly joyful the plaza is back,” said Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, who came out Monday to mark the occasion. “Our economy depends on venues like the South Coast Plaza, not just in Costa Mesa, but in Orange County and the state of California.”

The mall initially closed its doors March 17, following a statewide shelter-in-place mandate. When restrictions eased slightly in May, South Coast Plaza began offering curbside pickup for online orders — an option that helped keep sales tax revenues local.

On June 11, South Coast Plaza reopened temporarily as Orange County businesses were given a wider clearance. But as cases began to surge and the county was placed on a state watchlist for high infection and hospitalization rates, indoor shopping centers were ordered to close once more.

Officials retreated, allowing only outdoor dining and department stores with exterior entrances to continue doing business.


The Pavilion, located on the first floor of South Coast Plaza’s North parking structure, is accessible only by appointment. More than 100 boutiques are participating.

On Aug. 5, a collection of open-air suites, the Pavilion, debuted to take advantage of outdoor retail business allowances and to allow shoppers with appointments to peruse and purchase goods. The Pavilion and curbside pickup continue to be offered.

“Every month since April, we’ve been busy adapting and making changes,” South Coast Plaza spokeswoman Debra Gunn Downing said by email Monday. “One of the most important insights we’ve taken away from the closures and reopening twice is the importance of being nimble and flexible, thinking creatively and pivoting quickly, while keeping customers safe.”

Signs asking customers to socially distance are spread throughout South Coast Plaza on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Times Community News)

Monday’s reopening comes on the heels of an announcement from Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday that the state had developed a new four-tiered system to guide reopenings as some California counties, including Orange, begin to demonstrate a decline in coronavirus transmissions and hospitalizations.

Health officials reported Monday 94 new coronavirus cases and a single death, bringing the cumulative infections in Orange County to 48,538 and the countywide death toll to 980. Among all cases, an estimated 41,286 individuals are thought to have recovered.

Newsom takes a more cautious and stringent four-tier approach than his first reopening effort. ‘We’re going to be more stubborn this time,’ he says.

The county’s average infection rate also decreased, standing Monday at 76 per 100,000 residents. A total of 317 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, with 98 being treated in intensive care units.


Those figures are a marked decline from peak levels seen on July 14, when 772 were being treated in hospitals with 238 of those occupying ICU beds.

Officials at South Coast Plaza have implemented several virus precautions for shoppers and employees. Facial coverings and maintaining at least six feet of social distance are required, and hand-sanitizing stations have been placed throughout the mall.

With indoor dining still prohibited, restaurants with patio seating were doing a brisk business. Eric Enriquez of La Mirada waited for a friend outside the popular dumpling house Din Tai Fung for lunch.

Tests that look for the coronavirus in samples of saliva are about as reliable as tests that require a sample from the back of the nose, two new studies show.


An employee in the radiology department of PIH Health Whittier Hospital, Enriquez said he’s taken great pains to reduce his risk of exposure and will remain cautious, even as businesses reopen.

“I know people are getting cabin fever and wanting places to open up, but it’s better to be safer and take things a little bit slower,” he said. “I wouldn’t put myself in situations that feel unsafe — if it’s too crowded, I won’t go.”

Cardine writes for Times Community News.