Is COVID real for OC residents? That's up to debate, says Gustavo Arellano

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A sign at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton says Orange County is in the purple tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan, and visits are currently limited. November 30, 2020. Photo by Laura Kondourajian.

As coronavirus cases surge in Southern California and many regions face another stay-at-home order, some Orange County residents argue that their area shouldn’t be lumped together with LA County, which is a hotspot. KCRW talks with regular contributor Gustavo Arellano.

KCRW: What are the numbers of ICU capacity in each county? Is LA County that different from Orange County? 

Gustavo Arellano: “Not really. I think LA County is about 13%. … Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett tomorrow, during the Board of Supervisors meeting, her and Don Wagner, her fellow supervisor, they're going to go to the state and say there should be more local control, and especially that we should be cleaved off of Los Angeles County because our numbers are radically different. But ICU capacity in Orange County is only five percentage points more, at 18%, which is not too far away from the 15% threshold.” 

OC tourism has been hammered because of the closure of Disneyland, California Adventure, and all things Disney. Downtown Disney was reopened for a while, and apparently it’ll stay open at limited capacity, even through these stay-at-home orders, right? 

“All restaurants remain open [for takeout and delivery]. You just can't eat [inside them], and you can't eat outside anymore. Although most businesses aren't going to remain open unless you're a barber or a nail salon or whatnot. 

But Downtown Disney, people are still going to be able to go there. It just has to be at 20% capacity now, which is still a lot of people, given Downtown Disney is also outside, and there's a lot of stores that go along with it. 

No one likes these shutdowns. ... But again, the numbers don't lie. Coronavirus … numbers are through the roof even in Orange County. The past few days have seen record breaking numbers of coronavirus cases. And yesterday Orange County broke 2000 daily cases of coronavirus for the first time ever.”

Are local businesses abiding by the current limited capacity guidelines and the closures orders? 

“See, this is Orange County. We're not LA County, where people are going to follow the letter of the law. No, you're going to see more people. Because especially this time around, people are really upset, especially with the outdoor dining. … But then you have a county like Orange, where you have Sheriff Don Barnes who says, ‘I'm not going to have my deputies go out and cite people or even tell them to not do that because I think this might be unconstitutional.’ So you also have a sheriff who's telling the public, ‘You can do whatever you want. We're not going to do anything about it.’” 

OC Supervisor Don Wagner announced on Twitter that he was going to file a legal amicus brief against Governor Newsom's order because he wants to enact more local control. This is obviously what OC has talked about for a long time. Do you think he'll get anywhere with that suit? 

“No, I don't think so. So far, no one has really been able to beat California in any of the mandates. I mean, the closest we have is a hearing in LA County that's supposed to happen about restaurant owners telling the county, ‘Hey, show us proof that outdoor dining is dangerous in regards to coronavirus.’ 

So Wagner, along with his former colleague on the Board of Supervisors [and] now Congresswoman Michelle Steel, have been the two people most adamantly opposed to anything involving restrictions with coronavirus. 

But very interestingly, one of [Wagner’s] partners on this now is Lisa Bartlett, who has been the voice of moderation on the Board of Supervisors. And she's now saying, ‘Hey, maybe we should try to do something to allow these businesses to remain open again.’ 

But look, no one is denying businesses are hurting, even the governor of California is saying, ‘Yes, I understand businesses are hurting, but the numbers don't lie. The science doesn’t lie.’ If you have more people who are not part of your family around, even if you're wearing masks and even if you’re outside, there's a higher risk. Coronavirus will spread. But is coronavirus real for folks in Orange County though? That's up to debate.”

Are OC schools open? 

“Very few public schools had ever opened again, but there's definitely some private schools that were open. But you also have to remember that Orange County schools are overseen by the Orange County Board of Education, which earlier this summer, of course, approved guidelines that said students don't need to wear masks. They don't need any plexiglass coverings. They don't need any social distancing at all because children don't really get coronavirus. … This is a county where the people who are ostensibly in charge of all the schools … don't think coronavirus is a thing [for students]. 

It's crazy town down here. That's what it is. It's pure crazy town.”

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