Following in the footsteps of San Diego County and the city of San Francisco, Orange County officials Wednesday declared a local health emergency in response to the coronavirus.
“We will do whatever we can to keep the county coronavirus free,” Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Steel said.
There has only been one confirmed case of the virus in Orange County. Dr. Nichole Quick, the county’s health officer, said that person has fully recovered.
Quick said the emergency declaration “makes sure we’re nimble and flexible in how we respond” to a potential local outbreak. She noted, for instance, that it will help the county request “mutual aid” from other first responders elsewhere in the Southland if necessary.
But seeking to reassure the public, Quick said if there is an outbreak, the county has a “robust network” of first responders and hospitals capable of handling an emergency. She noted that as a precaution, anyone diagnosed with the flu is now being tested for coronavirus.
San Diego County officials declared a local emergency in response to the coronavirus on Feb. 14. Like Orange County, official in San Diego stressed that the declaration was not an indication of a greater risk of contracting the virus locally, only an effort to ensure the county was prepared to respond should an outbreak occur.
The San Diego County declaration came while hundreds of people who had been evacuated from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — were under quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Those evacuees have since cleared quarantine and have been released. Two of those people were diagnosed with the virus, but they were treated and eventually released.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a local emergency on Tuesday. There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus — known as COVID-19 — in that city.
Worldwide, more than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, including 2,770 deaths, the vast majority of them in China. More than 50 cases have been confirmed in the United States.
On Tuesday, an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that it isn’t a matter of “if” a domestic outbreak will occur, but “when.” The CDC warned that Americans should be prepared to face major disruptions to everyday life, such as cancellation of major public gatherings, should such outbreaks occur.
Also on Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to file an amicus brief supporting Costa Mesa in a federal lawsuit seeking to block COVID-19 patients from being housed at the former Fairview Developmental Center. Costa Mesa filed the suit late last week, and a judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the federal government and state from moving any patients to the facility. That order will remain in place until next Monday, when another court hearing will be held.
County health officials will meet Thursday with state and federal authorities to discuss the Fairview proposal.
Costa Mesa officials contend they received little notification of the planned move, and questioned the suitability of the location, noting that state officials had previously questioned its viability as a temporary housing facility for the homeless.
Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Andrew Do said Wednesday that state and federal authorities need an “operational plan in place” to deal with the virus. He criticized the Fairview proposal because Orange County is the second-most populated county in the state and the facility is in a densely populated area. Do also acknowledged concerns about the ventilation and other issues at Fairview.
“At a minimum it was hastily done, if not politically driven,” Do said. “They have to explain and prove to the judge the facility is safe and adequate.”
Attorneys for the federal government contended that CDC officials had inspected the site and determined it was suitable for COVID-19 patients. They also said the government planned to use the facility to house 10 people who have tested positive for the virus but have not yet shown any symptoms.
The patients are believed to be among those who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had been under quarantine while docked in Japan. So far, 42 Americans from the cruise ship have tested positive for the virus, including one Riverside County resident and one Los Angeles County resident.
Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday asking for more information about the state’s decision to seek to house patients in Costa Mesa.
“From our initial research, I believe that there could be superior alternatives to Fairview Developmental Center,” Moorlach said.
Moorlach said the state has 37,279 either owned or leased properties that should be considered.
“Of these properties, how many have at least 10 individual bedrooms with attached bathrooms?” Moorlach asked in his letter to the governor, referring to the criteria the state sought in housing the patients.
“Communication is the key to battling the threat of the coronavirus,” Moorlach wrote. “As the state is considering the next steps on addressing the coronavirus, please understand our collective concerns and act in a way that protects the health of our community as well as the health of those infected with the virus.”
Quick said the flu still poses a greater health risk locally than the coronavirus, but the understanding of COVID-19 is “rapidly evolving.” She said there is no need for residents to be unduly alarmed, but everyone should practice the same methods of avoiding germs such as regularly washing hands, covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing and getting a flu shot.
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