Orange County revises coronavirus order in effort to ease confusion

A sign outside the Balboa Island Improvement Assn. in Newport Beach reflects the coronavirus crisis.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In an effort to stem confusion by many residents and businesses about what they could and couldn’t do, Orange County on Wednesday issued a clarification on its emergency order the day before that placed strong new restrictions on gatherings and some businesses as a precaution against the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

The revised order by county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick emphasized that except in specific cases, “nothing in this document prohibits businesses and other entities from operating within Orange County,” though they should “operate in accordance with social distancing guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health” — six feet from other people.

“People were reading the [original] order to say nonessential businesses needed to shut down, and that is not in fact what was intended,” county Supervisor Don Wagner said.

“Let me make it very clear — Orange County is not on lockdown,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel.

The revised order reiterated the original directive that bars must close and that restaurants can provide delivery, takeout and drive-through services but not dine-in through the end of March, though it could be extended.

The revision also said that “nothing in this order prohibits the gathering of members of a household, gathering or living unit, or the utilization of caregivers,” or attending school, going to work, “essential public transportation, airport travel, shopping at a store, mall or farmers market or charitable food pantries and distributions.”

It did, however, say that all public and private gatherings outside a household that are defined by the state Department of Public Health as nonessential to daily life or the public health are prohibited through March. Those include concerts, theaters, gyms, conferences and sporting events.

Violations are subject to fines, imprisonment or both, according to county Executive Officer Frank Kim.

To read the full order, go to

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Wednesday increased the number of coronavirus cases in the county to 42, up from 29 the day before. Of the cases, 22 were determined to be travel-related, seven due to contact with a known case, 12 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.

“What we’re saying is, ‘Look, we have a virus. It’s here in our community and it’s spread by person-to-person contact, generally,’” Kim said. “If you can [practice] the social distancing and maintain that per the guidance, we stand a much better chance in our community of reducing the spread of this virus from person to person. That really is what we’re asking for.”

Wagner added: “The bottom line is we are trying to be as responsible and responsive to this disease as possible, at the same time making sure you’re able to go about providing for yourselves, for your families, for your friends, for your neighbors.”

Daily Pilot staff writer Lilly Nguyen and City News Service contributed to this report.

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6:54 p.m. March 18, 2020: This article was originally published at 6:20 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.