Orange County California Resumes Reopening

With Labor Day weekend and the summer tourist season both now in the rear-view mirror, there’s good news for travelers to Southern California. Not only will you enjoy lower crowds in the off-season, but more will be able to reopen as Orange County enters the “red” tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy on September 8, 2020.

California’s new system for reopening is a four-tier, color coded classification that was recently introduced to replace the previous watch list approach. Rather than the statewide “all or nothing” system, this will allow for partial openings in areas where transmission rates and numbers are lower. These tiers are re-evaluated every Tuesday, with counties moving up or down based upon their progress or regression.

When the new tiers were rolled out, Orange County landed in the most restrictive purple or “widespread” tier, due to its positivity numbers from the previous few weeks. Now, it joins San Diego County in the red tier. (Unfortunately, Los Angeles County will not be moving up anytime soon, as its positivity and case rates remain too high.) Here’s what that means in practice for visitors to Southern California…

Under Governor Newsom’s new plan, California’s counties are placed into four color-coded tiers based on positivity rates and cases per 100,000 residents in their communities. Counties must remain in a tier for at least 21 days before moving forward. Restrictions on business operations and activities will be eased as these levels drop.

Here are California’s four tiers:

  • Widespread (purple): More than 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or higher than 8% positivity rate
  • Substantial (red): 4 to 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or 5% to 8% positivity
  • Moderate (orange): 1 to 3.9 daily new cases per 100,000 or 2% to 4.9% positivity
  • Minimal (yellow): Less than 1 daily new case per 100,000 or less than 2% positivity

This is how the color codes will impact counties’ reopening plans:

  • Widespread (purple): Most non-essential indoor business operations are closed
  • Substantial (red): Some non-essential indoor businesses closed
  • Moderate (orange): Some indoor business operations open with modifications
  • Minimal (yellow): Most indoor business operations open with modifications

The good news is that Orange County now moves into the red/substantial tier after initially being placed in the purple/widespread tier. Here’s a look at current data from California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which will update later today to reflect Orange County’s tier change.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly has explained how this will work in practice for various businesses, using museums, zoos & aquariums as an example. In a county falling into the purple tier, as Orange County had previously, those businesses would only be allowed to open for outdoor visits.

In red counties, those same businesses could also open their indoor operations at 25% capacity. Moderate or orange tier counties could do the same, but at 50% capacity. For the counties in the yellow category, museums, zoos & aquariums would be able to fully open indoors with physical distancing and face covering rules.

Travelers to Orange County are likely primarily concerned by how this will impact shopping, restaurants, museums, beaches, theme parks, and of course, eating at In-N-Out Burger. (Regardless of whether the dining rooms are open, highly recommend eating outdoors at In-N-Out Burger. The rustling palms and crisp California air pair perfectly with a Double Double!)

Even before this update for Orange County, many aspects of California were able to reopen. As discussed in our Ultimate Laguna Beach Planning Guide, things are mostly back to normal there from a visitor perspective. Beaches are now open for all uses with face mask recommendations and physical distancing required.

Beyond beaches, some retail and restaurants have already reopened, with indoor shopping and outdoor dining previously allowed. Some local theme parks had adapted to resume operations under that as well, with Knott’s Berry Farm offering the new foodie event, Taste of Knott’s

Of course, for many visitors, the big question mark is Disney’s California theme parks. We address that at length and offer a predicted reopening date in When Will Disneyland Reopen? Suffice to say, now that Orange County’s risk level has been downgraded, we expect an official announcement from Disney this week about a reopening date.

Orange County has been seeing swift progress and only landed in the purple tier originally because it had just moved down under the previous watch list system, and thus needed to maintain its lower levels for two more weeks before officially being dropped down into the red tier.

If downward trends continue, Orange County can expect to move to the even more relaxed orange tier for “moderate” risk before the end of September. However, due to the aforementioned 21 day tier requirement, the earliest that can happen will be September 29, 2020.

Orange County health officials have cautioned against being overly optimistic that this will happen without continued diligence, adherence to health safety recommendations, mitigation measures by Californians. Unfortunately, case numbers may trend upward once again.

This is due to Labor Day weekend gatherings, which could cause another wave of cases in the next few weeks similar to the one in June that followed Memorial Day gatherings and the first round of business reopenings. On a more optimistic note, following that false start, there was not a pronounced spike caused by Independence Day. Here’s hoping the same is true for post-Labor Day numbers.

Ultimately, good news for locals and visitors to Orange County, as California continues its slow and methodical economic reopening after a false start earlier this summer. While those who want to visit Los Angeles still might want to hold off (and everyone should assess their own risk and safety before making any plans), the next several months should be a good time to visit Orange County. It’s now the off-season, most businesses are reopening with limited capacity, travel is further depressed by low demand, and deals abound!

If you’re planning a California vacation, check out our California category of posts for other things to do and our Daily Itineraries for Southern California & Los Angeles. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!

Your Thoughts

Do you plan on traveling to California in the near future, or will you wait until this is all in the rearview mirror? Think Orange County’s declining numbers and improved status are cause for optimism? Do you expect Los Angeles to join Orange County by October? Disappointed or glad that California’s reopening process has been slow and drawn out? Any questions about planning a visit to Southern California? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

1 reply
    TXLQQKIN28 says:

    Glad to hear there is progress! Our first trip to CA has been moved a few times and right now it is set for Christmas/New Year’s but have secured everything with refundable rates just in case. Will find something else to do for vacation if I’m not comfortable with the situation.


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