The Orange County Health Care Agency Wednesday reported 13 people succumbed to COVID-19, the second-highest number since the pandemic began, raising the death toll to 198.
The county also reported 147 new coronavirus cases, raising the total to 7,737. The number of people hospitalized stands at 306, an increase of two from the previous day, with the number of patients in the intensive care unit remaining at 146.
The deadliest day so far was May 21, when 14 deaths were reported by the HCA.
Eight fatalities were reported on Tuesday. The Health Care Agency reports 92 of the county’s fatalities involved skilled nursing facility residents.
According to the HCA, there have been outbreaks in 27 skilled nursing facilities, three in assisted living facilities, and in two care homes. An outbreak is defined as more than two cases.
As of Monday, 893 residents of the nursing homes had contracted COVID-19, and 442 staffers had been infected, according to the county.
The number of people tested for the virus in the county stands at 168,158, with 3,511 documented recoveries.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department reported 384 inmates have contracted coronavirus, with 370 having recovered. There are 14 inmates currently sick and officials are awaiting test results for 78 inmates.
The rising death toll hits as the health care agency has been roiled by defections from its executive staff.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the HCA’s director, was named the county’s chief health officer on Tuesday following the abrupt resignation of Dr. Nichole Quick, who had faced intense pressure over her order requiring face coverings to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Quick, who had held the job since last June and had also been assuming some responsibilities of the director of public health services, resigned Monday night after drawing criticism from some residents and two members of the Board of Supervisors who had repeatedly grilled her publicly regarding her order to require face coverings as the county allowed some businesses to reopen.
Chau was named to his new position by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Quick was receiving heightened security due to threats stemming from her mask order. Protesters brought a poster with her photo embellished with a Hitler mustache and swastikas to a Board of Supervisors meeting last month.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Tuesday that Quick “and I had a very good working relationship. I respect her decision. I’m disappointed she left, but certainly there was no encouragement from myself or the board members to resign. That was a decision she made on her own.”
Kim said multiple members of his staff have been threatened since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I’m frustrated by that,” Kim said. “None of our staff deserves that treatment.”
Quick’s resignation marked the second major and abrupt departure in Orange County since the pandemic began. David Souleles retired in April as the HCA’s deputy director of public health services.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said Quick resigned because “it was too much for her.”
“She has three young children and she’s been severely criticized by people who came out demanding her resignation, demonstrations in front of her home,” he said Monday night. “She’s done her best to give her medical opinion and it’s not popular, so she has resigned.”
Chaffee noted that for all the residents who show up at board meetings to complain about the mask order, officials have received a great deal of expressions of support for it.
“The email is 10-to-one to keep it,” he said. “They’re afraid to show up (at board meetings) because of the confrontation it will entail.”
Kim told reporters that most of the emails he received in the first week of the mask order favored it. He said he does not know the trend since then because his email was so overrun he had to have a staffer monitor it because he couldn’t get any work done otherwise.
Nearly 100 residents lined up to speak out against the mask and stay-at-home orders at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, where several board members peppered Chau with questions about the necessity of the face-covering order and how much longer it would need to be in place.
Chau said he was concerned about outbreaks stemming from the widespread protests against police brutality throughout the county. He said the mask order should definitely remain in place for another three weeks to see if there is an uptick that exceeds state standards as the county reopens businesses on Friday.
Chau said the reopening of so many new businesses by this weekend will bring the county into a “new ecosystem,” and he added, “We have to evaluate how we do in that new eco-system before we make that decision.”
Chau said the rate of new cases and the ability to handle a surge of patients in the county’s hospitals are the two key metrics he is tracking. Chau wants to remain below the state standard of 8% of positive cases per 100,000 population. The county’s current rate is 4.6%.
Supervisor Andrew Do, who was the first supervisor to advocate for masks in April, criticized county officials for not having a more specific standard for when masks are no longer required.
“At some point shouldn’t we have a standard, a number we can rely on, that the community can rely on?” Do said. “If our number is low and lower than the state average and way below other counties adjacent to us… if this is not sufficient then what is sufficient? What is the standard you’re using then?”
As they had previously done, Supervisor Don Wagner and board Chairwoman Michelle Steel questioned the effectiveness of masks and pointed to past recommendations from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chau, however, said the most recent guidance from the public health organizations recommends masks.
Chau reiterated that the masks are not meant to protect the wearer, but to help keep them from spreading the highly contagious virus to others, particularly those most vulnerable such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
The Orange County Medical Association issued a statement saying it was “deeply saddened and concerned” about Quick’s departure and was “appalled at the personal threats and willful ignorance by some members of our community that ultimately led to her resignation.”