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County Issues, Then Rescinds, Sweeping Order on Public Gatherings and Work in Fight Against Coronavirus

Posted by Chris Nguyen on March 19, 2020

CoronavirusIn a 27-hour period, the County of Orange issued, then rescinded, a sweeping order that had restricted most gatherings of people, including most private sector work, intended to fight the coronavirus:

  • Tuesday, 2:58 PM: In an email to the media, the County released its initial sweeping order, which was time-stamped 2:26 PM.
  • City governments and the news media moved quickly to disseminate the order, and numerous private businesses moved quickly to comply with the order.
  • Tuesday, 7:16 PM: Facing significant pushback from law enforcement, the business community, and various City governments, among others, combined with dissension within the County leadership, the County issued a press release time-stamped 6:51 PM, declaring the order “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…” though restaurants should only provide “pickup, delivery and drive thru [sic] services.”
  • Wednesday, 3:30 PM: 20 hours after the press release and 25 hours after the initial order, County officials hold a press conference regarding “the updated Emergency Order” and urging businesses to stay open.
  • Wednesday, 5:01 PM: About an hour and a half after the press conference and nearly 22 hours after the press release, the County issued the new order rescinding the initial order that had been issued 27 hours earlier.  The new order time-stamped 4:40 PM, in effect, fell back to California Department of Public Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control regulations.

Tuesday’s headlines on the initial order were stark:

Wednesday’s headlines on the press conference and revised order:

The County’s order time-stamped Tuesday at 2:26 PM and released to the media at 2:58 PM opened with, “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…This prohibition applies to all professional, social, and community gatherings, regardless of their sponsor, that are not engaged in Essential Activities, as defined” in a list of 23 items in the order.

The County press release time-stamped Tuesday at 6:51 PM and released to the media at 7:16 PM stated:

Public Health Order is NOT an Order to Shelter in Place

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. However, following State guidelines, all bars and other establishments that serve alcohol and do not serve food shall close. All restaurants and other business establishments that serve food shall close all onsite dining. Pickup, delivery and drive thru services may remain open. It is important for all Orange County residents to read the order in its entirety.

Unfortunately, the order as written caused wide-spread confusion. In order to provide additional clarity requested by Orange County residents and businesses, the County will be issuing an amended Health Officer’s Order.

Should you have questions, please contact the County of Orange Public Information Hotline at (714) 628 7085. Please do not call 9-1-1 unless it is an emergency.

For general information about COVID-19, please call the OC Health Care Agency’s (HCA) Health Referral Line at (800) 564-8448, visit http://www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus, or follow the HCA on Facebook (@ochealthinfo) and Twitter (@ochealth).

The County order time-stamped yesterday at 4:40 PM and released to the media at 5:01 PM read:

[REVISED 3/18/2020]

Pursuant to California Health and Safety Code sections 101040, 120175, and 120175.5(b), the Orange County Health Officer ORDERS AS FOLLOWS:

  1. In light of new written, changing state guidance, this Order revises the prior order issued by the Orange County Health Officer on March 17, 2020. The March 17, 2020, order is no longer in effect as of the effective date and time of this Order.
  2. Except as provided herein, nothing in this document prohibits businesses or other entities from operating within Orange County. Businesses and entities should operate in accordance with social distancing guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health.
  3. Effective immediately, and continuing until 11:59 p.m., on March 31, 2020, public or private Gatherings, defined by the California Department of Public Health are prohibited. See, CDPH Guidance for the Prevention of COVID-19 Transmission for Gatherings, dated March 16, 2020, available at https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/COVID-19/cdph-guidance-gatherings-covid19-transmission-prevention-03-16-2020.pdf Nothing in this Order prohibits the gathering of members of a household, family, or living unit, or the utilization of caregivers.
  4. This Order does not prohibit activities such as attendance at regular school classes, going to work, or performing essential services. In accordance with state guidance, certain activities are essential to the functioning of our County and must continue. Hence, with respect to the prohibition on Gatherings, this Order does not apply to essential public transportation, airport travel, shopping at a store, mall, or farmers’ market, or charitable food pantries and distributions, or to congregate living situations, including dormitories and homeless encampments. See, https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Guidance.aspx
  5. In accordance with written guidance issued on March 16, 2020 by the California Department of Public Health, relating to Retail Food, Beverage, and Other Related Service Venues, (1) all bars and other business establishments that serve alcohol and do not serve food shall close; and (2) all movie theatres, gyms, and health clubs shall close. Food and beverage establishments, food trucks, grocery stores and charitable food distribution sites, and certified farmers’ markets are required to follow guidance released from the California Department of Public Health on March 16, 2020. All food served shall be by delivery, or through pick-up or drive-through. For purposes of food delivery and pick-up, social distancing, defined as maintaining a six-foot separation per person for non-family members, shall be required.
  6. In accordance with Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employers shall not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.


  7. A strong recommendation is made that all persons who are 65 years and older, or have a serious chronic medical condition (like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes), or have a compromised immune system remain at home consistent with guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health on Self-Isolation for Older Adults and Those Who Have Elevated Risk.
  8. A strong recommendation is made for persons exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate themselves in their place of residence unless seeking medical care.
  9. A strong recommendation is made that all businesses enact social distancing, increased sanitation standards, and make every effort to use telecommuting for its workforce.
  10. A strong recommendation is made that all residents are to heed any orders and guidance of state and local health officials related to COVID-19.

    General Provisions

  11. This Order and Guidance is necessary to protect and preserve the public health from, and prevent, the increasing transmission of COVID-19 in California and the significant risk of widespread introduction and transmission of COVID-19 into the County.
  12. Pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 120175.5 (b)  all governmental entities in the County shall take necessary measures within the governmental entity’s control to ensure compliance with this Order and to disseminate this Order to venues or locations within the entity’s jurisdiction where a large gathering may occur.
  13. This Order and Guidance shall not supersede any conflicting or more restrictive orders issued by the State of California or Federal governments. If any portion of this Order or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held to be invalid the remainder of the Order, including the application of such part or provision to other persons or circumstances, shall not be affected and shall continue in full force and effect. To this end, the provisions of this Order are severable.

As this is a rapidly evolving situation, this Order and Guidance may be revised and/or extended at any time.


Date: March 18, 2020

/s/ Dr. Nichole Quick
Orange County Health Officer


As Director of Emergency Services for the County of Orange, I am authorized to promulgate regulations for the protection of life and property pursuant to Government Code Section 8634 and Orange County Codified Ordinance Section 3-1-6(b)(1). The following shall be in effect for the duration of the Orange County Health Officer Order issued above which is incorporated in its entirety by reference:

The Orange County Health Officer Order shall be promulgated as a regulation for the protection of life and property.

Any person who violates or who refuses or willfully neglects to obey this regulation is subject to fine, imprisonment, or both. (Government Code section 8665.)

Date: March 18, 2020

/s/ Frank Kim
County Executive Officer
County of Orange

One Response to “County Issues, Then Rescinds, Sweeping Order on Public Gatherings and Work in Fight Against Coronavirus”

  1. Robyn Nordell said

    Chris – great job on condensing this info and clarifying this mess.. Thanks!

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