O.C. shutters bars, Newport Beach closes beaches for holiday weekend

Virus Outbreak California
Posted at 5:02 PM, Jul 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 20:02:13-04

SANTA ANA (CNS) - With coronavirus cases spiking, Orange County officials Wednesday ordered the closure of all bars effective at midnight and continuing until further notice, while Newport Beach officials voted to close their beaches for the Fourth of July weekend.

The county order affects all bars, pubs, breweries, and brew pubs that do not offer dine-in meals. Establishments that do serve dine-in food can only sell alcohol in the same transaction as a meal.

The closure order was expected ahead of the holiday weekend, given similar action already taken in surrounding counties of Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside. Orange County officials expressed concern that if they did not act, the county would become a magnet for holiday revelers from across Southern California.

"While we would prefer not to close bars at this time, many of our neighboring counties have closed their bars, and it's important to take precautions to ensure the safety of the general public," County Supervisor Michelle Steel said in a statement.

In an emergency meeting, Newport Beach City Council members voted 6-1 to close the city's beaches from 10 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Sunday. City Councilman Kevin Muldoon was the lone no vote.

Mayor Will O'Neill said he agreed with Muldoon that there hasn't been an uptick in transmission of the virus due to beach activities and added, "I don't understand why LA County closed their beaches. I really don't."

But since Los Angeles County and Laguna Beach have closed their beaches on Fourth of July and the state has closed parking for beaches in Orange County, Newport Beach will see an already popular holiday draw even more beachgoers than usual, O'Neill said.

Also, two lifeguards have tested positive for COVID-19 and 23 others who were exposed to the ill lifeguards are now in quarantine, O'Neill said. Other lifeguards are showing symptoms, the mayor added.

The mayor said the fastest growing demographic of infected patients are in their 20s and 30s.

"They're going to bars, going to house parties, not doing a great job of social distancing," O'Neill said, adding that he hopes they will now "take this seriously" as officials have to retreat on business and beach activity.

"I cannot in good conscious add more onto our lifeguards," he said. "We just can't responsibly ask our lifeguards to do more with less."

O'Neill also implored beachgoers to stay away during the holiday weekend.

"Don't make our lifeguards and police chase you off," he said. "This is a hard enough year... This is a time we step up to where we need to be."

The county's bar closure decision came on a day when county health officials announced 570 more coronavirus cases and five more deaths, bringing the county's totals to 14,413 cases and 345 fatalities. On Tuesday, the county reported a one-day record 779 newly confirmed cases.

Last week was the deadliest of the pandemic in Orange County, with 56 deaths reported. Since Sunday, the county has reported 22 fatalities.

The number of hospitalized patients in Orange County rose from 510 on Tuesday to 542 Wednesday, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 176 to 192.

The county has performed 241,027 COVID-19 tests, with 7,642 documented recoveries as of Tuesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week that Orange County, along with Solano, Merced and Glenn counties, had been added to the state Department of Public Health's watch list due to increasing percentages of positive tests.

The county's case rate rose from 115.2 per 100,000 residents on Tuesday to 126.4 per 100,000 on Wednesday. The positive test rate increased from 9.9% to 10.4% on Wednesday, according to health officials.

The state has set a desired standard average of 25 positive cases per 100,000 over a 14-day period, and a seven-day average positivity rate of 8%.

The three-day average increase of hospitalized patients is 9%, creeping up on the state's threshold of 10%. But that is down from 9.7% on Tuesday.

Health officials insisted Orange County is in good shape in terms of hospital beds available. The county has 38.2% of its intensive care unit beds available, above the state threshold of 20%, and has 64.6% of its ventilators available, above the state standard of 25%.

The city of Laguna Beach, which had already canceled its planned Fourth of July fireworks display, will close its beach on Saturday. The City Council also left open the possibility of extending the closure throughout the weekend if larges crowds begin to gather.

County Supervisor Andrew Do urged all residents and business owners "to be extra cautious this holiday weekend."

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett warned Tuesday that since the county has been managing cases at congregate living facilities, the current spike in cases is the result of community transmission.

The best way to stem the tide of community transmission is to encourage facial coverings and social distancing, she said.

Do on Tuesday announced a contract with Latino Health Access for a new program providing more outreach to residents in the county's hot spots of Santa Ana and Anaheim.

"There is no question in my mind now for the need for social distancing, good sanitation practices and face coverings," Do said.

"With the Fourth of July weekend coming if we are not careful about protecting each other we may reach a point where we need to shut down parts of the county and economy."

The escalating numbers of infections and deaths "should really silence to a large degree any debate over the necessities for these measures I mentioned earlier," Do said. "It's no longer a political question or issue -- it's really a health issue."

Eight out of the 10 highest case rates in the county are in Anaheim and Santa Ana, Do said.

Do said he expected a rise in cases when the economy was reopened, "But I have to admit... within the last two to four weeks they have been a little bit alarming."

Do emphasized that people living in the nation illegally should not fear participating in the new outreach program for local residents.

"Undocumented immigrants should not be fearful about being tested," Do said. "No immigration status will be asked or shared with anyone... We want to be culturally sensitive and respond effectively in a way that will penetrate these disadvantaged communities."

The program will also include a mobile response team to help stem any spread in schools when they reopen, Do said.