Bandana face covering
A woman uses a bandana as a face covering amid the pandemic. Courtesy San Diego County

Orange County now has 1,016 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 17 deaths after another 91 cases of the disease and two additional deaths were announced.

Officials, meanwhile, are awaiting guidance from the county’s chief health officer about requiring face coverings for food industry workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of hospitalized patients dropped from 129 on Tuesday to 99 Wednesday, with the number of patients in intensive care decreasing from 75 to 59, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Of the county’s 1,016 cases, 12, or nearly 1%, involve people under 18 years old; 9%, or 88, are between 18-24; 16%, or 164, are between 25-34; 15%, or 148, are between 35-44; 40%, or 408, are between 45-64, and 19%, or 196, are 65 or older. Men make up 52% of the county’s cases.

Officials say 11,791 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the county, with 1,637 more tests available.

Anaheim has the most cases with 104, followed by Irvine with 89 and Newport Beach with 78. Huntington Beach has seen a sharp rise to 73 cases, just one behind Santa Ana. Laguna Woods now has six cases of coronavirus, the first time the Health Care Agency has reported statistics from the city it has a population under 25,000 and cases aren’t reported for those cities until they exceed five.

David Souleles, a deputy director of the OC Health Care Agency, told county supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting that OC’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, was planning to issue an advisory recommendation on face coverings for store clerks. However, it would still require an order from the county supervisors to make the recommendation mandatory and enforceable, county counsel Leon Page said.

Supervisor Andrew Do introduced a motion to require clerks working in the food industry to wear face coverings Tuesday, but it failed when no other supervisor would second the motion.

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. He 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.

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea said Wednesday that a city order has taken effect requiring retail workers to wear face coverings in that city. The requirement applies to grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail stores where clerks interact with customers, the mayor said.

On Friday, the Irvine City Council will consider adopting an ordinance, Shea said.

City officials attempted to cajole city businesses to go along with a resolution on face coverings last month, but the majority of retail workers have not complied, Shea said. Some store managers have said corporate executives have said it should be voluntary, the mayor said.

“That’s just not OK,” Shea said. “We didn’t want to go to this step.”

Shea said she and other council members and other volunteers even handed out masks to various stores in the city to use.

“It was a huge hole in the social distancing,” Shea said of the lack of masks or scarves used to cover the face. “And we need to tighten up that hole and fix it.”

She said workers could use any sort of facial covering, including scarves or bandanas. She said the hospital-grade masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.

“We don’t want to take surgical masks away from medical professionals,” Shea said.

The city’s major developer, FivePoint, has pledged to acquire 100,000 masks for the city, Shea said..

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.

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.

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