As local, state and federal officials debate the appropriate time to lift coronavirus-related closures, Orange County leaders have convened their own task force on safely reopening businesses.
Directed by Orange County Supervisors Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel and including Supervisor Don Wagner, the group of local business and healthcare leaders held its first conference call Tuesday, April 21 – and it could bring some preliminary recommendations to the board as soon as next week, Wagner said.
While business representatives don’t want to endanger public health, they’re eager for a target date and feel “it is time to figure out what is the medically and scientifically responsible way” to start reopening, Wagner said.
Steel said she’s been talking to business owners who have made deep cuts to their staff, some of whom are now struggling to buy food.
“It’s been horrible,” agreed Mario Marovic, an Orange County restaurateur who is part of the advisory group.
Marovic said he was only able to keep a fraction of the staff at his 11 restaurants, just two of which remain open for take-out orders. The federal loans offered through the CARES Act are useless to him because three-quarters of the money must be spent on payroll in the next two months, but that’s unrealistic for restaurants that aren’t currently open, he said.
The task force also includes industry professionals representing grocers, hotels, entertainment venues, home builders and medical providers.
The two supervisors said their goal is to hash out guidelines for safely reopening, such as when masks and gloves might be required, and in what order to open different industries. While movie theaters and concert halls might have to wait, Wagner said with empty hospital beds and no spike in coronavirus patients so far, hospitals might resume performing some elective surgeries, which help keep them financially solvent.
Marovic said restaurants that are offering take-out already have procedures to sanitize their facilities, and he’s willing to discuss masks and customer capacity, but he believes May 1 should be the goal to reopen.
People should have the freedom to decide whether they feel comfortable going out to shop or dine, Marovic said, adding, “we did what we needed to do, we did it responsibly and now we need to open responsibly.”
At the moment, the state’s shutdown order remains in place, and Wagner said he doesn’t plan to challenge it unless mandated closures drag on beyond when most business and health experts agree it’s safe to proceed.
While May 1 may be overly optimistic, Wagner said, he believes reopening should begin within weeks, because “June 1 is way too late.”