The Orange County Business Council and Orange County Health Agency conducted a three-day Zoom conference to educate businesses on what is required of them to open during Covid-19. Friday’s conference focused on the restaurant industry and the industry specific orders, rules, guidelines and recommendations.
Dr. Clayton Chau from Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHC), Lucy Dunn, President and CEO of Orange County Business Council (OCBC) and Christine Lane, Director of Orange County Environmental Health (OCEH) served as expert panelists for the conference.
“I’m hoping that this is a good way, and start, for us to go back to our economic recovery. Everybody is itching to go outside and I want to let you know that up until now we still have not had a vaccine for this wicked virus yet, so public health is so important to us,” Dr. Chau said. “The state has warned us that if our number goes up and people need to be hospitalized more, the state could shut down the county. I want us to really be cautious on that…. We’re all in this together and we all suffer together and hopefully we are all healthy together.”
Orange County has entered Stage 2.5 and with it restaurants may open with limited capacity seating, social distancing and dine-in service.
For restaurants to be able to open they must abide by and accredit five protocols and display the signed accreditation and list on their entrance for consumers to see.
“This is your certification. You have to have a one-pager that lists these things and you sign and post it at your restaurant to say ‘we did all these things’ and you’re letting the public know,” said Lucy Dunn, President of OCBC.
Restaurants that have continued to serve to go, pick up and curbside must also display this signed accreditation to continue operating.
“If you don’t have a form you can do this yourself. Make sure you comply by just writing these things and dating and signing, saying you did do those things that are on your checklist and you read the guidance. That’s the easiest thing if you need to do something really fast,” Dunn said.
Information for obtaining the list and industry specific protocols can be obtained at Covid19.Ca.Gov.
Bars are not allowed to open during this time. Restaurants with bars must close down that area and not serve from the bar itself.
According to Dr. Chau, “Bars are not allowed to open. Even a restaurant with a bar, the bar section should be closed.”
Dine-in time limits
A few of the attendees of the conference had asked if there is a time limit for dine-in customers during Covid-19. Currently there are no time limits in county health orders.
“Remember, the guideline is ‘yes we are opening’ but the state is encouraging people to stay at home. Just go out when it’s necessary. Really the recommendation is don’t go out unless its necessary. So if you go out and eat I would say hurry up, eat and go home. This is the new normal,” Said Dr. Chau.
Lucy Dunn, President of OCBC, also weighed in on this supporting Dr. Chau’s statement of ‘the new normal.’
“We can have lingering lunches and dinner in the future. We have to understand these are short term rules. The rules are not here to make life difficult, it’s so we can keep our businesses open and not have to shut down again,” Lucy said.
Orange County residents are required to wear a mask anywhere they may come in contact within six-feet of persons who do not live in their home.
Stores may adopt this policy even if they have social distancing in place and can manage a 6-foot separation.
Employee temperature screening
Currently temperature screening is listed as guidance and is not in the county health orders.
“That’s part of the guidance, a suggestion. This kind of question you really need to talk to your legal advice just as you want to talk to your employee health team regarding the screening of employees. We can’t give you legal advice. We recommend you talk to your own legal advice about that,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, Director of OCHC.
Restaurants must be able to provide social distancing and separation for their customers through reduced occupancy and re-arranged seating. Currently a max amount of guests at one table has not been determined.
“I’m not sure of a number but as we touched on before, that the group needs to be from the same household or people who have asked to be seated together,” said Christine Lane, Director of OCEH.
An attendee of the conference asked about facilities that had fixed seating. Social distancing is a requirement to open and owners are concerned about how to address this with booth and bolted tables.
Christine Lane, OCEH, said, “In those scenarios where seating is fixed and can’t be rearranged, that’s where the Plexiglas can come in to be helpful. There are devices out there to adjust the height of the booth and add side separators. Customers can still sit and use the booth but be protected from people sitting behind them. You can also use every other booth to seat your guests.”
Reservations & Groups
Reservations are allowed during Stage 2.5, however large groups, parties, celebrations, weddings and large events are not.
“If the same household or parties request to sit together, that is allowed. If they are at the restaurant and the restaurant is not set up for that, then that would need to be taken into consideration,” said Lane.
Groups are under orders to be under 100 people total or 25% of the facilities capacity, whichever number is lowest.
“If you have capacity of 125 then you are only allowed to have 25% of 125. Less than 100 or no more than 25% of room facility capacity, whichever number is lowest,” Dr. Chau said.
Catering at a private residence is not allowed during Stage 2.5. Preparing food off-site and then bringing it to a private residence is also not allowed during this time.
“That is considered a gathering of people that are not in same household. There are three types of catering allowed: church services with limitations on numbers, cultural gatherings as well as protesting. For those type of gatherings, it is no more than 100 people or 25% of the capacity of the facility, whichever number is lowest,” Dr. Chau said.
Buffets and self-serve areas are to remain closed during Stage 2.5. Salsa bars, soda stations, condiment bars and soda machines fall under high-touch areas and must stay closed.
Lane “Buffets at this time or any self-service is not permitted. There are many reasons why but I think we understand at this point that self-service is not included in dine-in or this part of stage two because of the risk that self-service proposes. We’re trying to reduce our touch points,” Christine Lane said. “We’re also trying to avoid the congregation of people around a soda machine or buffet, waiting their turn to get into that food or beverage item.”
One of the conference attendees asked a question for Christine Lane, Orange County Environmental Health Department, that touched on the use of air-conditioning during Covid-19.
“There has been a lot of discussion about proper air circulation inside a facility and the potential for spreading when there’s coughing and sneezing. Part of that, again, is the restaurants choice. If they have alternatives they can consider or incorporate, they should look at that or even consider different filters on the AC unit. I also caution to be careful about propping open doors or windows because you don’t want to invite in vermin,” Christine said.
This is the saddest rule on the list. There is no karaoke during Stage 2.5.
“No singing allowed,” Dr. Chau said.