Orange County officials, after more than a week of questions from the public, other officials, and Voice of OC, are preparing Monday to start giving more data about their plans for a surge in people being hospitalized with COVID-19.
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For the past week, county officials have been asked how many additional hospital beds are estimated to be needed, and how much total personal protective equipment is still needed for first responders and hospitals.
It remained unclear Monday morning how much information officials would release at a planned 2 p.m. news conference.
County public information officials at the Emergency Operations Center did not respond Monday morning to requests for an interview about hospital capacity and needs for beds, protective equipment, and ventilators.
There were indications that as of Monday morning, OC officials didn’t know the number of ventilators being sought by hospitals across OC, a week after the county itself said hospitals were “depleted” of that critical resource.
State officials have estimated 50,000 to 60,000 extra hospital beds are needed across California – as well as over 100 million additional personal protection items like masks – to prepare for a wave of coronavirus cases projected to rise and then peak in mid to late April.
In Orange County, officials have been preparing to set up overflow hospitals at the Orange County Fairgrounds and Fairview Developmental Center. The plan is to use those new beds for patients who don’t have COVID symptoms, so beds at existing hospitals are freed up to treat patients with severe COVID symptoms whose lives are at risk.
San Diego County has been posting the total number of people hospitalized for COVID-19, and how many people are in intensive care beds, while Orange County has not.
OC officials appeared to remain resistant Monday morning to releasing data on total hospitalizations. County officials indicated they only have a partial picture of how many people have been hospitalized with COVID in Orange County, because hospitals aren’t required to report that to the county.
COVID hospitalizations statewide were released over the weekend by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said they were key numbers he follows each morning. Those numbers showed a doubling in one day of the number of people hospitalized in intensive care units, up from 200 on Friday to 410 on Saturday.
In an update early Monday afternoon, Newsom said there’s been a “tripling” of the number of COVID patients in California intensive care units over the last four days. The hospital system needs a “two-thirds” increase in capacity, the governor said.
A week ago Monday, a county update noted an “overwhelming” shortage of crucial safety equipment at OC hospitals, saying the medical centers were “depleted” of non-expired N95 masks, ventilators, disinfected wipes, and other items.
That day, Voice of OC asked county Emergency Operations Center officials what the needs were for equipment like N95 masks. The following day, last Tuesday, Voice of OC requested the hospital bed capacity, number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, and how many extra hospital beds were being pursued.
About a week later, clear answers had not been provided, as of Monday morning. But days after Voice of OC’s requests, officials did acknowledge the massive scale of the need.
“We’re gonna need huge amounts of [personal protective equipment] in the coming weeks, as is every jurisdiction in the country,” David Souleles, Orange County’s director of public health, in an interview Friday with Voice of OC. Orange County has distributed over 1 million pieces of protective equipment so far, and more is needed, he said.
How much protective equipment is needed in OC? “We’re talking magnitudes of hundreds of thousands and millions of products,” Souleles said.
County officials have been working to distribute masks and other items from a national stockpile that flowed through the state, he added, as well as receiving equipment donations from businesses and other private organizations.
All requests for emergency medical equipment have been going through the county Emergency Operations Center, which then makes requests of the state, which in turn gets much of its supplies from a national stockpile.
Quick, Honest Communication From Government is Crucial During Pandemic, Says CDC
Timely communication between the government and public is crucial for saving lives during a disease outbreak, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Quickly sharing information about a disease outbreak can help stop the spread of disease, and prevent and reduce illness and even death,” the CDC states in its communications guide for pandemics.
“Honesty, timeliness, and scientific evidence encourage the public to trust your information and guidance,” it adds.
A U.S. national strategy for pandemics adds, “A critical element of pandemic planning is ensuring that people and entities not accustomed to responding to health crises understand the actions and priorities required to prepare for and respond to a pandemic,” according to
A key goal, the strategy states, is to “identify credible spokespersons at all levels of government to effectively coordinate and communicate helpful, informative messages in a timely manner.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.