I live in Orange County, California so when the county’s public health office issued a notice yesterday ordering public and private gatherings to be shut down, I paid attention. The full notice, which was released yesterday afternoon, does not call for people to shelter in place. However, it does seem to suggest that all non-essential businesses should be shuttered. Here’s how it reads:
Effective immediately and continuing until 11:59 p.m. on March 31, 2020, the following will be in effect in Orange County:
All public and private gatherings of any number of people, including at places of work, occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited. However nothing in this Order prohibits the gathering of members of a household or living unit.
a. This prohibition applies to all professional, social, and community gatherings, regardless of their sponsor, that are not engaged in Essential Activities, as defined below…
This is followed by a couple of pages outlining what Essential Activities are exempt from the order. Basically it’s the same list of exempt businesses that Northern California counties including San Francisco outlined earlier this week. Pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, first responders, auto repair shops, farming, child care facilities, laundromats, media, hardware stores, shipping, airlines, taxis, and a few others are exempt. Restaurants are allowed to remain open but only to serve food for take-out or delivery. Dining rooms and bars that only serve alcohol must close.
Obviously, once you list the essential businesses, anyone who isn’t on that list is expected to close down. At least that’s how it sounded to many people. I know people who shut down entire offices last night, telling people to stay home because of this order. Here’s how CBS Los Angeles reported this initially:
But about four hours after the order was issued, the Orange County Emergency Operations Center published a new press release attempting to clarify the earlier one. It reads in part, “It is important for all Orange County businesses to remain open while practicing social distancing consistent with the Governor’s guidance.” The next paragraph states, “Unfortunately, the order as written caused wide-spread confusion.” So far I haven’t been able to locate this press release on the website but it was tweeted out around 7:30 pm last night.
— Orange County Emergency Operations Center (@OrangeCountyEOC) March 18, 2020
Even after the correction was issued, some local officials were still making statements reflecting the initial press release:
The city attorney in Huntington Beach (in OC) has just posted information confirming the original press release that contradicts this retraction. Where is the press conference? @ochealth https://t.co/2SEkbWBCni pic.twitter.com/NMhuLTlSpE
— InMinivanHell (@inminivanhell) March 18, 2020
The county is about to hold some kind of press conference as I write this to clarify what is going on. So far, this is not creating a lot of confidence that the people in charge of this situation know what they are doing. Here’s how KCAL 9 reported on the confusion over the order last night: