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Dr. Clayton Chau, Orange County Health Care Agency director and acting O.C. health officer addresses the public in a press conference on Thursday.

As California continues to move through the four-step plan to reopen after a statewide shutdown in March, Orange County will reopen higher-risk workplaces and will no longer require face coverings to be worn in public effective Friday.

The state has expanded the second stage of the process so that certain businesses and activities which require more face-to-face interactions, including schools, hotels, movie theaters, bars and museums, will be eligible to reopen in correspondence with state-issued safety plans, according to a press release from the city of Fullerton.   

“Orange County is well on its way to getting out of this situation,” said Michelle Steel, chair of the OC board of supervisors. “While we are not out of this completely yet, Orange County is in a good position to continue moving forward and we have reason to be positive about where we are.”

Steel said that in comparison to neighboring counties, Orange County continues to see the lowest rate of COVID-19 related cases. 260 cases were reported in the county on Thursday, cumulating 7,987 cases, according to the OC Health Care Agency. 

On Monday, Dr. Nichole Quick resigned her position as Orange County’s chief health officer following threats over her order to require face masks to be worn in public and protests outside her home. 

That mandate was rescinded on Thursday by OC Health Care Agency director and interim OC chief health officer Dr. Clayton Chau, who was appointed to his position in April after his predecessor David Souleles abruptly resigned. 

Chau said that the new order will no longer require residents to wear face coverings, but it is still recommended that they do so when outside of their homes. 

Chau also encouraged the practice of social distancing, among other guidelines laid out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and in accordance with the state. 

“I want to be clear, this does not diminish the importance of face coverings,” Chau said. “I stand with the public health experts and believe wearing cloth face coverings helps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community and save lives.”  

The loosening of the mask restriction comes after multiple supervisors have publicly called for the masks to be removed as a requirement. 

Chau added that in order for the county to be consistent with state guidelines, the language was suggestive rather than a requirement that could cause confusion within the public.  

Not all communities will move onto the next step of reopening, as the counties need to have met a level of readiness criteria and worked with the California Department of Public Health, according to California’s Resilience Roadmap.   

Throughout California, COVID-19 cases continue to rise at a steady pace as more counties proceed to reopen with over 3,000 new cases reported as of Thursday.  

Chau said he attributes the increase to the events on Memorial Day weekend when many beaches up and down the coast were packed with people despite the stay-at-home order.   

Orange County is waiting for a response from Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow the community to proceed to stage three of the reopening plan, which will authorize additional sectors to open such as nail salons and youth sports, Steel said. 

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