The coronavirus pandemic “has upended nearly every aspect of public and private life” in Orange County, forcing schools, businesses, medical services and families to adapt to new practices that likely will continue long after COVID-19 has been subdued, a new business report says.
Faced with shutdowns of everything from malls to theme parks and cancelations of everything from surf contests to film festivals, Orange County residents have embraced trends that were just getting started, concluded the Orange County Business Council’s “Community Indicators” report, released Tuesday, Sept. 22.
More people are working and learning from home, meeting online and consulting their doctors virtually rather than on an examination table.
In a future world, we’re likely to see less traffic congestion, less business travel and companies leasing less office space.
“This has accelerated a lot of trends and fostered new trends that will continue after we get through this,” said Wallace Walrod, the business council’s chief economic advisor. “We have the opportunity to rethink what the next normal is.”
Full recovery is still at least a year off, the report says. Nonetheless, Orange County’s recovery from the Great Recession demonstrates the county’s economic resilience, Walrod believes.
The 172-page report is the business council’s 21st such study. It contains data across a broad swath of civic, social and economic life, providing a statistical measure of Orange County’s wellbeing for businesses and community groups to use in planning their activities
While past reports focused on topics like childhood poverty (15.2% of county population) and unaffordable housing ($110,700 a year needed to afford an entry-level home), the bulk of this year’s analysis focuses on how the pandemic has affected everything from classroom instruction to traffic congestion and rising rates of anxiety and depression.
“COVID-19,” the report said, “has disrupted the global and regional economy in countless ways.”
Think back to January, when John Wayne Airport had 26,000 passengers passing through its doors every day. By April, it was serving just 25,000 passengers a month.
A passenger checks the flight schedule at John Wayne Airport on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Passenger volume fell to 25,313 for the month of April 2020, compared with 26,000 a day in January. As of July, volume was back up to 239,000, less than a third of pre-pandemic levels. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Kaelyn Brady and her boyfriend Alex Gonzalez appear to have John Wayne Airport to themselves on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Airport terminals are far less crowded as passengers shun travel during the pandemic. Although passenger volume in July was 10 times greater than in April, it’s still down 70% from January, JWA figures show. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
SoundThe gallery will resume insecondsThe U.S. Open of Surfing, which drew 375,000 visitors to Huntington Beach, was canceled this year due to the pandemic. (File photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland is devoid of people after closing for just the fourth time in the theme park’s 65-year history. This photo was shot in Anaheim, CA, on Thursday, May 7, 2020. Aerial services provided by Hangar 21 Helicopters. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The Newport Beach Film Festival drew almost 60,000 attendees in 2019. It was one of many Orange County events canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. (File photo courtesy of Erik S. Neldner/NBFF/ZUMA Press)
The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor saw tolls drop from 198,000 in October to fewer than 72,000 in April as jam-packed freeways became wide-open speedways. “The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of public and private life, ravaging lives and livelihoods,” the Orange County Business Council “Community Indicators” report said Tuesday, Sept. 22. (File photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Madison Zimmer travels with daughters Nora, 2, and Bridget, 7 months, at John Wayne Airport on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. The latest figures from the airport show passenger volume for the month of July was down 70% from pre-pandemic levels. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Cosplayers dressed as Marvel characters pose for a group picture outside WonderCon in Anaheim, CA, on Friday, March 29, 2019. The event, which drew about 66,000 visitors last year, was canceled in 2020. (File photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The Esplanade between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is devoid of people during the resort closure due to coronavirus (COVID-19) in Anaheim, CA, on Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A plane is readied for takeoff at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Passenger traffic fell from more than 800,000 in January to 25,313 in April. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Two-year-old Nora Zimmer carries her own bag at John Wayne Airport as she gets ready to board a flight to Washington with her mom and baby sister. The airport served 239,000 passengers in July, less than a third of the pre-pandemic volume. In April, passenger traffic fell to 25,313 for the entire month, equivalent to one day’s volume in January. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Rose Ilano helps her son, David, get ready for his flight at John Wayne Airport on on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. He will be attending school at University of Washington. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
John Wayne Airport’s terminals were empty in April 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Passenger volume fell to 25,313 for the month of April 2020, compared with 26,000 a day in January. (File photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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The busy Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor saw tolls drop from 198,000 in October to fewer than 72,000 in April as jam-packed freeways became wide-open speedways.
And just a third of those riding Orange County buses at the start of the year was still taking the bus by April.
The report includes a long list of other impacts as well.
The Disney Resort in Anaheim, for example, closed for just the fourth time in its 65-year history. The Orange County Fair, the Newport Beach Film Festival, WonderCon Anaheim and the U.S. Open of Surfing all were canceled.
And the economy suffered a blow that surpassed the devastation of the Great Recession 12 years ago.
Unemployment soared as the pandemic sidelined 257,900 workers from February to May, causing the jobless rate to jump from one of the lowest on record (2.8% in February) to the highest of the last three decades (14.7% in May).
And even though 82,000 employees had gone back to work by August, total employment still was down 176,000 from pre-pandemic levels.
Demand for office space tumbled as the pandemic accelerated an existing work-from-home trend, pushing the office vacancy rate up and lowering lease rates.
Nowhere has the pandemic been as dramatic as in Orange County’s $13 billion-a-year tourist industry, which attracted 50.2 million travelers in 2019, the report said.
Leisure and hospitality employment, for example, was almost halved to 123,400 workers in May.
Loss of tourism has a ripple effect on the overall economy, resulting in less income for businesses and decreased sales tax revenue for local governments.
“It has been a year of change,” Walrod said. “But we are responding.”
One measure shows, for example, how remote medical consultations have been embraced by CalOptima, Orange County’s public health plan for low-income residents. The organization provided 150,000 “telehealth” services since the pandemic, compared with 30,000 at the start of 2020.
Many of the indicators the business council traditionally rely on couldn’t be updated, Walrod said.
For example, one indicator showed 23% of Orange County neighborhoods had high levels of family financial instability in 2018. Another showed 7% of Orange County residents lacked health insurance in 2018.
Did those get worse this year? It’s too soon to tell.
But, said Walrod, “there probably isn’t an indicator it hasn’t impacted.”
A Cal State Fullerton survey that showed 24% of Orange County business executives expect to get back to pre-pandemic activity levels by the end of this year.
The business council thinks full recovery will take a little longer.
“It will take years to get back to a 3% (unemployment rate),” Walrod said. “I see 2021 as a full year of recovery, barring a second wave of COVID.”
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