The number of active coronavirus cases in Orange County rose to nine Friday, and county officials said they will begin providing daily online updates about the status of the illness locally.
Supervisor Andrew Do, who is also vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said six of the cases have been fully confirmed, while three other people have tested positive for the illness locally, although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not yet confirmed the results.
Orange County Health Care Agency Director Richard Sanchez said Friday that his agency can only provide age ranges and genders of the patients. But the agency later issued a release providing more details, including that one person acquired the virus locally, a first for the county.
A woman in her 50s who appears to have contracted the virus locally was hospitalized in isolation and is not considered in life-threatening condition.
Another man in his 70s is isolated at home and contracted the virus through travel-related exposure.
A man in his 30s is at home in quarantine and acquired it through his contact with another known case.
Another patient is a man in his 60s, who is hospitalized in isolation and contracted it through travel-related exposure.
Eight of the cases were contracted through traveling and one was due to “person-to-person” contact, according to the county’s website. Six are men and three are women.
Four are 18 to 49 years old, three are 50 to 64 years old and two are older than 65.
The nine cases represent an increase of three from Wednesday, when only six local cases had been reported. So far, 134 people countywide have been tested for the virus. The first case was reported Jan. 25.
Do said the county will provide daily updates about COVID-19 on a website that will be updated at 5 p.m. daily. The website is www.ochealthinfo.com/novel_coronavirus.
Do said on Wednesday that the county will cancel all “nonessential county meetings and events.”
Officials are doing what they can to “allow employees who can work from home the opportunity to do so,” Do said.
County officials will also do what they can to accommodate paid time off for workers who have to care for someone stricken with the virus, Do said, or employees who have to stay home to watch children if schools are closed.
County officials are also planning daily media briefings, Do said. Plans are being made for town halls that could be streamed online at least at least once a week.
The Board of Supervisors will also meet once a week instead of every other week as they usually do, Do said. The supervisors will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to provide further guidance to employees on how they can hold “remote meetings” to cut down on person-to-person contact, he said.
The board meetings are usually live-streamed on the county’s website, but officials are going to also broadcast them on Facebook Live and YouTube to make them more accessible to the public, he said.
Orange County Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel said the coronavirus outbreak is “the biggest crisis the county has faced since the bankruptcy, but this is worse,” because it involves the health and safety of residents, instead of just a financial issue.
In a virtual town hall the county held Thursday evening, officials received 20,000 calls and comments, Steel said.
The county has enough test kits for 1,124 people, Sanchez said. County officials are awaiting more test kits from the state and federal governments and are waiting for private healthcare laboratories to “ramp up” production of testing kits.
Anyone who falls ill is encouraged to call their doctor or healthcare provider to figure out if they need to be tested. County officials believe they have enough test kits at this time, Sanchez said.
At some point, government officials hope to hand off the testing to private healthcare providers, which is routine in outbreaks such as this, Sanchez said.
Do said officials were working on ways to provide meals for children while they’re out of school for at least the next couple of weeks as most districts are choosing to do. They are also trying to figure out how to provide childcare for parents who can’t afford daycare or babysitters and must work, Do said. The county has various family centers that can help in that regard, he added.
School districts are funded by daily attendance figures of students, so a long break could affect them financially, but officials said they can apply for a waiver from the state to get reimbursed.
Sheriff Don Barnes said his inmates are not at risk of contracting the virus from visitors because there is a barrier between them, but visits will be canceled through Monday because those are high-traffic times that can draw large crowds amassing in the jail’s lobby. Sheriff’s officials will “reassess” the cancellation of visits the week after next, he said.
Attorneys may continue visiting clients in the jails, however, Barnes said.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer issued a statement Friday afternoon warning merchants against price gouging as consumers stock up on supplies in stores.
Merchants may not increase prices for necessities or services by more than 10% during a declared state of emergency unless they can prove costs have increased, Spitzer said.
Those who break the law could face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Necessities covered under the law include food, drinks, flashlights, radios, batteries, medical supplies and hotel or motel stays.
“The Orange County District Attorney’s Office will vigorously enforce price gouging laws in order to protect Orange County residents from any unscrupulous attempt to illegally profit from the coronavirus threat,” Spitzer said. “While I understand this situation has created a lot of uncertainty, exploiting the public’s panic is not a defense to engaging in criminal activity.
“We will get past this at some point, and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office will ensure that there will be accountability for those who break the law and prey on vulnerable victims.”