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Orange County issues order to stop non-essential gatherings through March

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The Starbucks at Bella Terra mall in Huntington Beach was closed Monday, a day before Orange County officially ordered that all public and private gatherings outside a household be canceled and restaurant dine-in service be stopped as a precaution against the coronavirus.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Orange County on Tuesday officially ordered that all public and private gatherings outside a household be canceled as a precaution against the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

The order, issued by county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick, lasts through March, though it could be extended or otherwise revised.

The order prohibits gatherings that are not for “essential” activities such as emergency services, healthcare, grocery and convenience stores, gas stations, banks, farming and fishing, mail courier services, laundromats, transportation services and businesses that help provide services to lower-income households.

The directive allows restaurants to provide delivery and take-out but not dine-in service. It orders bars to close.

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The decree says it is enforceable by law enforcement and that violations are subject to fines, imprisonment or both.

Along with the other measures, the order reiterates previous recommendations for people 65 and older or with preexisting health conditions — who are considered most at risk of serious effects from COVID-19 — to stay home.

All residents are urged to keep at least a 6-foot separation from others, except family members.

To read the full order, go to ochealthinfo.com.

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“We are taking these mitigation steps in line with a directive issued by Gov. Newsom to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” Quick said in a statement.

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Tuesday increased the number of coronavirus cases in the county to 29, up from 22 the day before. Of the cases, 15 were determined to be travel-related, five due to contact with a known case, eight that were “community-acquired” — not related to travel or contact with a known case — and one that is under investigation. The county has had no deaths related to the illness, according to the agency.

“We recognize community members may experience anxiety related to the social disruption caused by COVID-19 and want to encourage residents to reach out to loved ones using appropriate methods like telephone, video messaging, email and text,” Quick said.

At a county Board of Supervisors meeting earlier Tuesday, county District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he was concerned about any criminal crackdowns on restaurants or bars.

“Are we going to rush in with billy clubs and riot gear, and am I going to be prosecuting 30 people in the next two days?” Spitzer asked. “I don’t want to see that happen.”

There are civil and licensing remedies for violations, Spitzer said. “There doesn’t have to be incarceration.”

Supervisor Andrew Do said, “We are under a declaration of emergency, so Dr. Quick has more police power than under normal circumstances.”

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Do added, however, that “nobody said there would be incarceration in every case.”

Supervisor Don Wagner said, “Discretion is always open to our prosecutors.”

County Chief Executive Frank Kim said his office is working with officials in the grocery industry to issue a public statement assuring residents there is no issue with the food supply and that no one should feel like they need to stock up on food.

Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel asked how the county can help people financially who work in service industries such as restaurants and other small businesses.

“This is going to be really impacting so many businesspeople in Orange County,” she said.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said that under the county’s emergency declaration, small businesses can apply for loans from the federal government with an interest rate of 3.75%, and 2.5% for nonprofits. The loans can be paid back in 30 years, she added.

“It’s all well and good to get the loan, but if you don’t have any income to service the debt, the loan won’t do you any good,” Wagner said. “All needs [of businesses] need to be addressed at the appropriate time.”

Health officials said they have enough test kits to handle high-priority coronavirus cases. The county has enough supplies to test 1,045 people.

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Health Care Agency Director Richard Sanchez said the county has requested more test kits, but he noted that every other county in the country also is requesting test kits.

County officials don’t know how many test kits private healthcare providers have.

Quick said anyone with “mild illness” should “stay home until you’re better and not seek testing.”

Those who do seek testing should call their doctor first before showing up, she said.

Spitzer said he has been in discussions with law enforcement on cracking down on price gouging during the emergency. Jacking up prices on necessities such as flashlights, batteries and water is against the law, he said.

Spitzer said discussions are ongoing to take care of constitutionally required court proceedings for violent crimes while all the county’s courthouses are closed.

“No one is going to be let out of jail who has committed a serious violent crime,” Spitzer said.

Lilly Nguyen is a Daily Pilot staff writer. Daily Pilot City Editor Rob Vardon contributed to this report.

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Updates:
7:31 AM, Mar. 18, 2020: This article was originally published at 4:05 p.m. March 17 and has been updated with new information.

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