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Update March 18, 1 p.m.: Orange County issued a clarification, stating that “Today’s order from County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick is NOT an order to shelter in place. It is not a lockdown. It is important for all Orange County businesses to remain open while practicing social distancing consistent with the governor’s guidance.”

While Los Angeles County has curtailed public gatherings of 50 people or more, its neighbor to the south has gone a step further: Effective immediately, Orange County is prohibiting all public and private gatherings of any number of people outside of a single household or living unit. 

Violations of this order are subject to fine, imprisonment, or both. 

Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick issued an order Tuesday, mandating the new COVID-19 regulations to be followed by all Orange County cities. The order bans all social, professional and community gatherings regardless of their sponsor. 

All bars not serving food must close completely. Restaurants and other business establishments that do serve food must close all on-site dining, though food served via delivery, pickup or drive-thru is still allowed. However, all staff and customers must adhere to strict social distancing rules — maintaining a six-foot separation from all persons, except for family members. 

While not officially banned, state authorities have strongly recommended all residents aged 65 years and older, as well as those with a serious chronic medical condition (such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes) or compromised immune system, remain confined to their homes. 

Gatherings that involve essential activities may still be conducted if they cannot be plausibly postponed, or if their function serves a vital community need. Per the order of the local health officer, essential activities include: 

  • All services needed to ensure the continuing operation of government agencies providing for the health, safety and welfare of the public
  • Hospitals and other essential healthcare operations 
  • First responders and other emergency and law personnel
  • Grocery stores and other establishments selling food supplies for both people and animals, as well as household cleaning and personal care products
  • Food cultivation, such as farming and livestock care
  • Businesses providing aid for economically disadvantaged individuals and families
  • Media services
  • Gas stations and auto supply
  • Banks and related financial institutions
  • Hardware stores
  • Plumbers, electricians and other service providers that maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operation of residences

Further direction for home-based care, childcare and residential facilities was also listed in the order: 

  • Essential businesses must maintain social distancing and increase sanitation standards. 
  • All businesses must make every effort to use telecommuting for their workforce, suspending any policy or procedure requiring doctor verification for leave approval. 
  • Those who are exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and contact their medical provider. 

The county order is expected to last through March 31, though officials acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that may necessitate a revision or extension of the order at any time. 

It comes on the heels of the White House’s coronavirus guidelines that were announced earlier this week. In L.A. County, it remains to be seen whether authorities will follow suit in tightening restrictions on gatherings. 

LA Weekly