Orange County officials reported 49 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death Tuesday, bringing the county’s totals to 931 cases and 15 deaths.
The number of hospitalized patients dropped from 130 on Monday to 129 on Tuesday, with the number of patients in intensive care rising from 72 to 75, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Of the county’s 931 cases, eight, or nearly 1%, involve people under 18 years old; 9% are between 18-24; 16% are between 25-34; 15% are between 35-44; 40% are between 45-64, and 19% are 65 or older.
Men make up 53% of the county’s cases.
As of Tuesday, 11,307 people had been tested for COVID-19 in the county, with enough tests for 818 more people.
Anaheim has the most cases with 95, followed by Irvine with 82 and Newport Beach with 75. Huntington Beach has seen a sharp rise to 67 cases, two more than Santa Ana.
Sheriff Don Barnes told the Board of Supervisors he received test results Monday night showing four more inmates in Orange County’s jails have COVID-19, increasing the total to 10, nine men and one woman.
Nineteen inmates are in “medical isolation,” meaning they are showing symptoms of coronavirus, Barnes said. Another 159 inmates are in quarantine, meaning they have had contact with someone with the virus.
Sheriff’s officials have implemented a full quarantine in the men’s and women’s jails.
Barnes said last week two deputies tested positive for the coronavirus and are recuperating at home. One works at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange and the other at the main jail in Santa Ana.
Co-workers and inmates who came into contact with those deputies were being alerted. Their co-workers were being told to quarantine themselves if they feel they have symptoms, and officials are monitoring the inmates, said Carrie Braun, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s director of public affairs and community engagement.
Nine Orange County Fire Authority firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Colleen Windsor, the OCFA’s director of communications. Four have recovered, but none have returned to work, she added.
“From what we know, none of their family members have gotten sick so they’ve all done a great job of self-isolating and taking precautions,” Windsor said.
Barnes has released 331 inmates shortly before their sentences were up, and, of those, 108 were deemed at risk because of their age or underlying health risks. All of the inmates released were serving terms for nonviolent crimes, Barnes said.
The county’s jails housed 5,200 inmates as of March 6, but as of Monday morning the population was under 4,000, Barnes said.
Also Tuesday, Supervisor Andrew Do’s motion to require store clerks working in the food industry to wear face coverings failed when no other supervisor would second the motion.
David Souleles, a deputy director of the OC Health Care Agency, told supervisors the county’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, was planning to issue a recommendation on face coverings for store clerks on Tuesday.
However, that would be advisory, and an order from the county supervisors would make it mandatory and enforceable, county counsel Leon Page told the supervisors.
Supervisor Don Wagner argued that he would rather follow Quick’s lead.
“None of us are doctors and the public health officer is telling us what she believes is an appropriate order at this time,” Wagner said. “We would be unwise to get away from that procedure.”
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said, “We could make orders for people to do things, but how about helping them? We can order people to get masks, but can they get a mask that’s effective?”
Chaffee said stores with clerks that voluntarily use face scarves may “get more business and maybe encourage others to step up.”
Orange County Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel, “We’re waiting for our health officer, who has the knowledge and direction… Why don’t we just wait?… Before we are just jumping in why don’t we wait at least one day?”
Do replied, “I don’t want us to appear divided or conflicted as a county, but I have made suggestions in the past and I have gotten push back and then I have seen other jurisdictions follow.”
If health officials are advising the public to wear scarves or masks to help reduce the transmission of the virus from asymptomatic people then it ought to apply to workers in the food industry as well, Do argued.
Do noted that last week, San Diego County adopted a similar policy.
Suellen Hopfer, a professor of disease prevention at UC Irvine, told City News Service restaurant workers should wear some sort of face covering. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending the practice for food workers.
“I don’t know how much it does to protect yourself, but, especially for those preparing food, it would help if they wear face masks if they are available to them,” because coronavirus can be transmitted through someone’s breath, Hopfer said.
“Even when you talk you could spit saliva unknowingly,” Hopfer said. “If we’re trying to flatten the curve that should be the direction we go. It’s not a big sacrifice for people.”
Hopfer said it was important, however, that the hospital-grade masks should be reserved for health care workers.
Chef Cathy Pavlos of Provenance Restaurant in Newport Beach said she and her staff have been wearing bandanas as facial masks for the past few weeks.
“It doesn’t necessarily protect us, but it protects our customers and one another and that’s why we’ve been wearing the masks,” Pavlos told City News Service.
Some of her customers have wondered if they were sick, she said.
“Nobody understand this,” Pavlos said. “It is protecting other people from you, not the other way around, and I think that’s very confusing to people.”
Pavlos said that some people are not using gloves properly either.
“People put gloves and leave them on for hours at a time and feel safe,” she said. “But it’s much better for a food worker to wash their hands often. So we’re washing our hands continuously.”
Pavlos said bandanas are ubiquitous in most kitchens anyway.
“It was a show of solidarity by turning our bandanas into a mask, and I think nationwide people should do it,” she said.
Quick has discouraged residents from seeking surgical masks or N95 masks, which are in short supply and badly needed by health care workers.
Instead, she recommends any sort of face covering, including scarves and bandannas, because they can be effective in cutting down the spread of the virus, though people should still stay at home and practice social distancing.
Also at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Freidenrich said she was advised by attorneys that while she could not move the Friday deadline for property taxes due she could provide relief from penalties for some residents who pay late because they were affected by the pandemic. Applications for waivers from penalties would be considered on a case-by-case basis, she said.
The county has collected 85% of property taxes it is owed, Freidenrich said. That tracks with the pace of last year, she added.
This year there has been a “surge” of taxpayers paying online, Freidenrich said. Those who cannot prove hardship from the virus can pay in installments at 18% interest. The county has about $1 billion in taxes still to collect, she said.
Souleles told supervisors the county’s hospitals are “operating below capacity with 51% of beds filled,” as they brace for an expected surge of patients afflicted with the virus.
The number of cases in the county continue to trend upward, but there has not been a “doubling” of cases, so that could indicate social distancing is having an effect, Souleles said.
However, health officials have been stymied in their attempts to understand how seriously the pandemic has hit the county because of a dearth of tests, Souleles said.
County officials have been prioritizing who is tested, focusing on about 80 cases a day for the seriously ill, health care workers, first responders and other vulnerable residents, he added.
Jason Austin, the behavioral health homeless coordinator for the county, told supervisors the county recently recorded its first case of COVID-19 among its transient population. That person was placed in the county’s new program in a hotel in Orange funded and mandated by the state.
County officials are in negotiations with a motel operator in Stanton and another one in south Orange County that would provide 197 rooms, Austin said.
A deal with a hotel in Laguna Woods collapsed after the operator backed out following protests and lawsuits from the city and a retirement community there.
Some transients housed in hotels and motels will have COVID-19, but the sites will be lockdown facilities with private security preventing coming and going, officials said.
The former Joplin Youth Center in Trabuco Canyon will be up and running in the next several days as soon as the water quality serving the facility is up to code. That site will be reserved mostly for elderly transients who are asymptomatic, Austin said.
The county has ordered three sprung structures, which are like large tents, to shelter healthy transients because they would allow for better physical distancing than the county’s shelters.