Orange County supervisors vote to ask Gov. Newsom for local control over coronavirus crisis

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Orange County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom for local control over the coronavirus crisis, hoping to rid the county of the same rules and regulations facing 10 other counties in the Southern California region.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Santa Ana, several residents spoke out against the state’s order banning all indoor and outdoor dining, limiting retail stores to 20% capacity and closing down hair salons and barber shops among other new restrictions. The order went into effect Sunday night and remains in place in the 11-county Southern California region for three weeks.

“Please do what you can to open up this county — find a loophole, openly defy the governor, make it a $1 fine to be open,” one man said during the meeting.

However, the resolution that supervisors approved Tuesday does not call for violating the state’s health order. Rather, O.C. officials want Newsom to give the county permission to make its own rules.

“We need a balanced approach, and the heavy-handed, one-sided approach that’s coming from Sacramento right now in dealing with COVID-19 has really been problematic,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.

The new closures and restrictions, which are stricter than other health orders in SoCal in recent weeks, apply to regions where ICU bed capacity has dropped below 15%. Last week, state health officials said ICU beds statewide would be filled by mid-December given current projections —if no intervening measures are taken to curb the spread of the virus.

“Because the rate of increases in new cases continues to escalate and threatens to
overwhelm the state’s hospital system, further aggressive action is necessary to respond
to the quickly evolving situation,” State Public Health Officer Erica S. Pan wrote in a statement.

Still, every supervisor at Tuesday’s meeting agreed that local control is best, potentially allowing O.C. to loosen its own rules even while neighboring counties have to comply with the order. Last week, county officials had described the state’s latest health order a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Governor, give us the responsibility. We will do you proud because we have already demonstrated we can do this,” Supervisor Don Wagner said at Tuesday’s meeting.

On Tuesday, another 1,671 cases of coronavirus were recorded and no additional deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, 90,513 cases and 1,633 deaths have been reported in the county.

Some counties in the Southern California region facing all the same restrictions are faring much better than Orange County, which has just 6.7% of ICU beds available. That troubling percentage is even less than the number of beds available across the 11-county region: 10.1%.

It’s more than particularly hard-hit regions like Imperial and San Bernardino counties but less than Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego and Kern counties, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

In fact, that’s far fewer ICU beds than the number available in counties further north in the region, as defined by the state. Santa Barbara County has more than half its ICU beds available — 51.5%. That’s more than three times the number of beds available in O.C. Meanwhile, San Luis Obispo County has 48.9% ICU availability.

Despite these much less alarming conditions, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County must still follow the state health order and the business closures and regulations it encompasses.

More than 80% of the state population, or more than 33 million people in California, are affected by the order. It’s drawn criticism from restaurant owners and others most impacted, particularly as Congress fails to pass another stimulus package as a safety net for business owners and workers.

One woman at Tuesday’s meeting told county supervisors she was worried she could lose her business of 20 years. “I want to know what can I do in order to be open?” she asked the board.

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