As Orange County officials worked Wednesday to disseminate $75 million in federal funding to help cities, small businesses and nonprofit organizations with COVID-19-related expenses, health officials reported five new fatalities and an increase in hospitalizations.
The death toll now stands at 136, with 54 of those fatalities linked to skilled nursing facilities, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus increased from 269 to 274, with the number of patients in intensive care dipping from 106 to 101.
The HCA reported 116 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 5,646, while the number of people tested for the virus since the pandemic began stood at 109,013.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department reported 370 inmates have tested positive for the virus, with 324 having recovered. A dozen prisoners are currently sick, and officials are awaiting test results for 160 inmates.
A day after the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to dole out the $75 million in federal funding, county CEO Frank Kim said that he and his staff were working hard to push the money out to cities as quickly as possible.
The county received a total of $554 million from the federal government’s coronavirus relief bill, and plans to use $453 million of that sum on expenses such as overtime for staff responding to coronavirus emergencies as well as public health and medical costs.
Last week, the board approved sending $26 million of the county’s share of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to cities for direct expenses related to battling COVID-19. The supervisors had held off on plans to spend the remaining $75 million until Tuesday.
The board rejected a plan by Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner under which the money would be given to cities, and officials in the cities would decide which businesses would get grants.
Several mayors in the county had prodded the board to support Steel and Wagner’s plan.
“We’re pushing back on the governor on things like go slow to reopen the beaches, go slow to reopen the malls and his go slow to reopen the hair salons,” Wagner said. “This pressure on the governor is working… and the mayors are pushing back on us.”
Wagner maintained that the plan approved by the board — under which the money will be distributed evenly in each of the five supervisorial districts — would delay the allocation of money because an administrator will have to be hired to distribute grants to small businesses.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said Steel and Wagner’s plan might see more funding going to other districts that have more small businesses.
“I don’t want my district shorted by some formula that has not been set forth,” Chaffee said.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she wanted to “leverage” the money in her district through banking programs that would allow for more money to be available in the long run.
“The $75 million to each individual small business — it’s not a lifeline, except for a couple of days,” Bartlett said.
“You’re talking about $500 to $700 or something and that’s not going to sustain them for the long term. We have to get them through COVID-19. I want to sustain these businesses for the long term.”
Steel replied, “This is for short-term emergency support,” and said the hiring of an administrator to distribute the money would add “bureaucracy… and we’re just wasting money.”
Wagner said he wouldn’t use an administrator to determine who gets the money in his district.
“I’ll take care of that,” he said, adding he would distribute the money to the cities in his district by the end of the week.
The board on Tuesday also encouraged Orange County’s public health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, to modify her weekend order requiring that masks be worn in many public settings. Nearly 100 people protested the order at the board meeting.
Quick and her staff on Wednesday were working on an update of the face covering order that would also include language on the reopening of hair salons and churches, which were approved following her order on Saturday, Kim said.
The county CEO defended Quick’s order regarding masks.
“I have no issues with it,” he told City News Service on Wednesday. “As the county reopens, we face additional risk that community transmission could increase. We hope that it doesn’t, but in order to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19 within our general population, we encourage individuals to practice all of the good common sense hygiene like washing hands frequently, maintaining social distancing, and I absolutely support the order requiring face masks when you cannot maintain adequate social distancing.”
Kim noted that Quick’s order was the same as in San Diego County and other neighboring counties.
Wagner, however, said he was “appalled” when he read Quick’s order. He said there is a double standard between big-box stores and small businesses.
“This is discrimination against our smaller establishments,” Wagner said. “This order is nonsense from soup to nuts, and it’s being forced on us while the state is (backing off on it).”
Steel said, “We always undermine our Orange County residents. They’re much smarter than all the elected ones.”
Steel, however, did not appear to understand that people can transmit the virus even though they have not shown symptoms.
“Wearing masks is not to protect yourself,” Dr. Clayton Chau of the Orange County Health Care Agency told the supervisors on Tuesday. “Wearing masks is to protect others. That’s key number one…. Number two, you don’t know if you have the infection because you’re asymptomatic.”
Steel then asked if an asymptomatic resident can transmit the virus, and Chau confirmed they can. He also corrected her on the significance of testing to show antibodies “because the first seven to 14 days you are infected you might not produce the antibody.”
The virus is transmitted by droplets emitted from coughing, sneezing or speaking, Chau said. A mask “is stopping the droplets from going out into the air,” he said.
Supervisor Andrew Do, who was the first on the board to advocate for face coverings in early April, noted that the county “almost invites insurrection” with a face mask mandate.
Sheriff Don Barnes said he would take an “education first” approach to the face mask issue. He told the supervisors he did not intend to be the “face mask police.”
“We heard from the sheriff, and it’s difficult for a health officer to enforce an order the people don’t subscribe to,” Do said.
Do encouraged Quick to modify her order, which cannot be overturned by the board. Quick was given the authority to hand down such orders during an emergency.
Wagner denounced “threats” made against Quick on social media.
“The threats against Dr. Quick are absolutely unacceptable in a civilized society,” he said.
Quick has been “under sheriff’s protection” the past couple of weeks, Wagner said.
Protesters showed up at Quick’s house and some activists brought a large sign to Tuesday’s board meeting depicting the doctor, who is Jewish, with a mustache like Hitler’s and a swastika on it.
Referring to some speakers at the meeting, who said they would protest outside of Quick’s house, Wagner said, “I do think that the right to protest in front of her house is constitutionally protected, but to the extent any threats are made, those cannot be, and the sheriff would be within his rights and encouraged by all five us to act quickly to protect her, her family and her loved ones.”
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