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Orange County residents embrace reopening of bars, gyms and pools

More than a dozen people sat on stools along the bar at Swallow’s Inn Friday afternoon, June 12, sipping beers and cocktails from plastic cups and chatting about everything from politics to horses.

It was business as usual after three months of forced closure.

To celebrate Rebecca Jaffe, a bartender who’s worked at the San Juan Capistrano bar for 18 years, served up the “COVID Cure,” a mix of agave tequila, tonic and a splash of pineapple and lime juice.



As California enters Stage 3 of its reopening plan, more businesses opened their doors in Orange County on Friday. Bars and breweries, communal swimming pools, gyms, movie theaters, hotels and museums were among those allowed to reopen as long as they follow guidelines for social distancing and sanitation. Orange County health officials relaxed on Thursday the county’s order for wearing face coverings or masks from a requirement to a strong recommendation.

Many Orange County residents greeted the reopening of more businesses and facilities on Friday with enthusiasm, scheduling gym appointments and packing their swimsuits for pool outings.

“I just wanted to celebrate the moment and make an appearance,” said Karen Hillyard of Rancho Mission Viejo, though she held a cup of sparkling water. “It’s a symbol of everything coming back to normal. It just feels free again.

“The Swallow’s is open. All is well.”

While some are expressing concerns about the pace of reopening as the cases of the coronavirus continue to inch upward in Orange County – as of Friday there have been 8,153 confirmed cases and 210 deaths since testing began in March – county officials have noted the reported rate of positive tests has stayed well below the state’s 8% benchmark for proceeding with the next stage of reopening.

Most people at the Swallow’s Inn did not wear a mask, except for Jaffe who wore a surgical mask. In fact, the bar didn’t look much different than it had before the pandemic, albeit with more cleaning, noted Schuyler McBride, who visits the bar three times a week.

“Today is like, ‘Oh wow, we’re stepping into the same old bar with a clean new feel,” McBride said.

Other businesses took more visible measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

YMCA of Orange County installed a full-body temperature scanner at its fitness centers. At its Fullerton location, staff moved weights such as kettlebells to an outdoor space to spread out those working out, said Rikki Bains, the executive director of the Fullerton Family YMCA.

The organization is reopening its gyms in phases, starting with just cardio and strength equipment. Group classes are not yet offered, and locker rooms are closed. But that could soon change, said Dolores Daly, chief operations officer at YMCA of Orange County.

“We wanted to start slow to get through the protocols, but we are ready,” she said. “As long as we can maintain social distancing, we’ll bring those pretty quickly.”

YMCA of Orange County had kept some of its sites open to provide childcare for parents who are deemed “essential workers.” During the last two months, no children or staff at those sites tested positive for the coronavirus, Daly said. She said that experience informed the organization of best practices to use in preventing the spread of the virus.

About 25 miles southeast, Mehdi Dalili led group classes and personal training sessions at his Top Notch Fitness gym in Lake Forest.

As soon as people come in, they have to sanitize their hands and soles of their shoes. Four stations are scattered throughout the room for people to sanitize their equipment.

“They come in sanitizing, and they go out sanitizing,” Dalili said.

He said he doesn’t know if everyone who used his gym pre-pandemic will come back. But he believes many will.

“People can’t escape this part of life,” he said. “It’s kind of like hospital. You can’t escape hospital.”

In Ladera Ranch, community swimming pools reopened Friday, albeit only at half the capacity.

Lounge chairs and tables have been taken out so staff members don’t have to constantly sanitize them, but people can bring their own lawn chairs, said Joe Ribotto, the Ladera Ranch Maintenance Corporation’s board president.

“Residents were anxious to get those pools to reopen,” he said. “We’ve been ready for this for two weeks.”

At one of the pools, Meghan Mills, 39, was playing with Harrison, 1, and Grayson, 4. Carrying Harrison on her left arm, Mills strolled the water to meet Grayson who wanted to jump in where the water was warm.

“Do you know how to get warm? Swim, swim, swim,” Mills told Grayson.

Mills said she and her family have been going on a lot of hikes, walks and beach outings to stay entertained. But it’s hard to beat a day at the pool, she said.

“It’s entertainment that I don’t have to fully facilitate,” Mills said. “I feel good about it. I feel like there is some risk we take, but this is a risk I am personally willing to take.”

Source: Orange County Register

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