Health officials are asking the public to stay 6 feet from other people as much as possible – and urging people 65 and older and those with chronic health conditions to stay home – as lab tests confirmed for the first time that the new coronavirus is spreading in Orange County.


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The wide-ranging developments Monday included the following:

  • Three new cases of community spread of coronavirus in OC were confirmed in public health lab tests, bringing the total to four community spread cases and 22 total coronavirus cases in Orange County as of 8 p.m., county health officials announced Monday. The actual number of cases is likely higher due to delays in testing, officials have said, and can double every few days if public health measures are not undertaken, officials have said. The new coronavirus is 10 times deadlier than the seasonal flu, according to the nation’s top health experts, and even deadlier for seniors 60 years and older. The seasonal flu killed 34,000 Americans in the 2018-19 season.
  • But public health officials say Americans can dramatically slow coronavirus’ spread and ultimately stem it, by staying home and remaining at least 6 feet from other people as much as possible, washing hands frequently and not touching eyes. The social distancing guideline is based largely on measures credited with saving lives in St. Louis during the 1918 Spanish flu and later in Mexico City during a 2009 flu pandemic. People in the U.S. are recommended to still stay in touch with others through phone calls and video chats.
  • Orange County officials were not preparing to issue any stay-at-home orders as of Monday evening, citing the far fewer number of coronavirus cases in OC versus the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a person close to the county. Seven Bay Area counties made plans Monday to issue such orders, which requires staying at home except for essential needs like work, getting groceries and medication, or walking the dog.
  • Heeding advice from health officials, local schools, cities, businesses and public services are pausing or moving to slow in-person meetings in an effort to curb the virus’ spread. Additional closures of non-essential public services could take place, many city officials have said.
  • All K-12 schools are closed in the county, with to-go meals available for many families who rely on free and reduced meals for their children.
  • Orange County’s traffic and civil courts were closed, while criminal courts remained open.
  • The Anaheim City Council moved to declare a local emergency Monday evening, which would trigger a state law requiring the county emergency operations center to stay open 24/7. Anaheim officials were also moving to close city hall until at least the end of the month.
  • Jail visits are suspended and inmates are being asked to give permission for their attorneys to appear in court without them, to reduce the need for inmates to be in court, county officials announced Monday evening. Public assistance offices, including for general relief, were closed and services moved to phone, fax or online. The moves were was part of a series of changes to county services. (Click here for the full list of changes to county government services as of Monday evening.)
  • City Council meetings moved online.
  • As of Monday evening, restaurants and bars have not been ordered to close in-person dining. But many are voluntarily shifting to only take-out or delivery orders, according to business leaders.
  • Many people were still trying to figure out how and where to get tested for the virus. Currently testing is arranged through health care providers, like doctors and hospitals, coordinating with county health officials. People are urged to call a medical provider, not go in person, if they have symptoms similar to coronavirus.
  • County health officials reported they had 1,075 coronavirus tests as of Monday afternoon, plus access to an unstated number of private facility tests. Federal officials on Monday estimated 1 million private tests were available nationally, rising to 2 million next week and 5 million the following week. (Orange County has about 1 percent of the national population.) As of Monday, 300 people had been tested in Orange County, with 17 people testing positive for coronavirus, officials said. The tests so far have been concentrated on people with symptoms or higher risk of exposure.
  • Food banks were looking for additional donations of non-perishable foods, like canned soup and pasta. The Second Harvest Food Bank of OC calculated it will need an additional 37 truckloads of such food to meet demand over the next eight weeks.
  • An update on coronavirus in Orange County was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at a special meeting of the county Board of Supervisors. Officials are encouraging the public to watch online through a live video stream on this page.

OC Criminal Courts Are Open, While Traffic and Small Claims Courts Were Closed

Orange County Superior Court officials are continuing to hold criminal case hearings, while pausing traffic and small claims night court for 60 days, on Monday, officials announced.

“The Court will be rescheduling all traffic and small claims night court matters for cases set for court in the next 60 days, starting with March 17, 2020. Notice will be sent to the parties noting a new hearing date. Please check back on Court News for details as they become available,” states a Monday afternoon press release from court officials.

K-12 Schools Closed For Now, With Food Available for Families at Some

Every public school district in Orange County closed its schools starting Monday, in decisions that were first announced Friday. Districts planned to close for periods between one and four weeks, but closures could be extended based on the public health situation.

Many students in low-income families eat free or reduced price lunches at school, and many districts are making school lunches available for pick-up. Some districts are also making breakfasts available for pick-up.

The two public universities in the county – Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine – started shifting to online-only instruction and limited on-campus services starting around March 12.

“As we are about to embark into unchartered waters, let us embrace love and compassion, let us embrace mindfulness and self-care, and let us embrace our common humanity in navigating our journey together,” wrote Anaheim Union High School District’s superintendent, Michael B. Matsuda, on Sunday, March 15.

Several City Council Meetings and Public Assistance Counters Shift to Online-Only

Orange County cities are cutting down public services and some are hosting remote City Council meetings in an effort to help curb the spread of the novel Coronavirus, as of Monday afternoon. 

Fullerton and Santa Ana have upcoming city council meetings Tuesday, which will still be open to the public. But future meetings could go online and done through a teleconference, like Buena Park is doing, said city officials. 

Normal city hall functions, like permits and building plan checks, were still available Monday afternoon and city officials urged people to watch city council meetings from home and digitally send in public comments. 

Many cities are also discouraging or cancelling in-person staff meetings.   

The cities are following guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control and the state Department of Public Health. The guidelines call for people to keep at least a 6-foot distance from each other, wash hands often and stay at home if people feel ill. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended portions of state transparency law, known as the Brown Act, so cities, counties and other governing bodies can meet via teleconference.

Federal officials said Monday they did not  have any plans to call for a nationwide curfew or a host of closures. Local officials in specific areas with higher numbers of cases, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, moved Monday to order residents to stay at home except for essential trips to get food or medicine.

Scores of recreation centers, skateparks and other public entertainment venues in Orange County have been closed or could be closed by cities as of Monday afternoon. 

The Orange County Public Library system is also closed until March 31, following a series of OC school closures after all 27 superintendents met in an emergency meeting last Friday.

Food Banks Call for Donations

Orange County food banks are preparing for a surge by stocking up on food and supplies for poor people and seniors. 

One food bank, the Second Harvest Food Bank of OC, has calculated it will need an additional 37 truckloads of non-perishable foods, like canned soup and pasta, to meet demand over the next 8 weeks, said Ranggin Hedayat, the food bank’s account executive, in an email Monday. 

That calculation, he said, is “simply a call to action that they will need people to make donations to help meet that need.”

“With the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) expanding, we have implemented our response to a rapidly developing local crisis,” Hedayat said.

Second Harvest is one of the hundreds of facilities in the county providing free meal and food pantry services. 

The food bank is “mobilizing,” he said, for an increase in demand for food assistance from poor families “and others related to the continuing decline in tourism, travel and hospitality; closures of schools, workplaces, social distancing, smaller, to no, community gatherings, and very few volunteers available to help distribute food.” 

The food bank is also shifting its distribution model to packing and delivering individual boxes of “shelf-stable food” to meet the needs of seniors, families and others in need. 

“We are also focusing on increasing our inventory of shelf-stable food above and beyond our normal supply housed at the Food Bank to meet the anticipated rise in demand as we all navigate this crisis,” Hedayat said. 

Grocery Stores Move to Restock Shelves

Grocery store managers were restocking supplies across California, after days where certain shelves were emptied.

“The demand for some products has made it a challenge to distribute goods fast enough to restock shelves as quickly as consumers are purchasing them. But we are open for business, doubling down on safety practices, and well-positioned to meet the needs of all Californians,” the California Grocer Association said in a statement over the weekend.

While grocers in the state are monitoring their supply chain, the association is encouraging all customers to remain calm and not to overbuy supplies, so they can remain available for others. 

“Overbuying could become a concern as a customer who buys more than they need could prevent another customer’s preparation,” the association said in its statement.

The leader of OC’s main association of large businesses association leader in Orange County Lucy Dunn said there should be enough gasoline available. 

“What I’m hearing from industry experts is that the oil barrel prices are the lowest in years due to a battle going on between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Gas prices will likely go down,” Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, told Voice of OC on Monday.

Water supplies are safe and residents should not be afraid of using tap water, she added.

OC health officials have asked the public to avoid “panic buying,” where people buy large amounts of food or other products out of fear for their safety.

“Filling up a grocery cart may temporarily calm your worries about [coronavirus], but there are real world consequences – like a surge in prices and a shortage of essential supplies for people who need them most (think face masks for health care workers),” states an advisory from Orange County health officials.

Coronavirus Information Made Available for Non English-Speakers

The county has translated key information about the virus, like how to prevent its spread, guidelines on self-quarantining and face masks, and messages to refrain from panic-buying, in a number of non English languages.

Click here to view all of the county-compiled guides in multiple languages.

Activists also are stepping in to fill gaps in outreach.

Several local activist groups formed a coalition to do outreach to non-English-speaking communities, and have planned an online community news conference and question-and-answer forum for Tuesday at 4 p.m.

More information about the event and instructions on how to access the live streams is avaialble here.

Buses Continue Running, With Stepped Up Cleaning

The county bus system will continue normal operations, with no cuts to frequency or service, according to transportation officials. 

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) officials also say they’re disinfecting and sanitizing the public bus system and other public vehicles, with attention to certain areas on the  vehicles — like handrails, seats, seat-belts and windows — that could pose public health risks.

OCTA has put together a Coronavirus Task Force “that is meeting daily and taking guidance from local, state and federal agencies, including the Orange County Health Care Agency and the Centers for Disease Control,” said OCTA spokesman Eric Carpenter to an emailed response to Voice of OC questions. 

“The transit services we provide will continue to be critical to the public, enabling our passengers to shop for food and workers to travel to jobs that are essential for our communities and medical facilities to keep functioning,” Carpenter said. 

Homeless Shelters Draw Questions about Backup Plans

The tight living quarters of homeless shelters, including the dense 400-person Courtyard shelter in downtown, have drawn concern about how homeless people will be protected if a person gets coronavirus there.

The Courtyard’s director, Doris Starling of the nonprofit Midnight Mission, said she’s “doing the best I can” to clean the shelter, though she’s still waiting on more instructions from the county.

Santa Ana Some homeless shelters in Orange County have developed emergency plans to shift their operations, like changes to handling of bed linens, and even people’s sleeping positions in the shelters.

Officials at Mercy House — which operates the Costa Mesa Bridge, The Link in Santa Ana, the HomeAid Care Center in Orange, Anaheim’s Bridges at Kraemer Place, and  the National Guard Armory shelters in Santa Ana and Fullerton during cold weather months — said they sent an emergency response plan for staff to follow in case the virus begins spreading faster.

Haynes previously told Voice of OC that shelters’ top priority is to protect the safety of those sheltered, volunteers and staff members. 

“We’re serving, as you can imagine, quite a large number of very vulnerable people. So, this is something that we take extremely seriously,” he said.

Community Centers and Senior Centers Close

Community and senior centers across Orange County have been closed or are shutting down in the coming days, with classes being cancelled or postponed and nearly all events cancelled. 

While each city has to make the decision on reducing hours or closing centers entirely, the move across the entire county has been to close senior centers over at least the next month. 

The cities of Irvine, Newport Beach, Fullerton, Westminster, and Tustin are also working to keep their meals-on-wheels programs for seniors open, but have closed the centers to any other activity. 

The meals on wheels system will be largely pick-up based, with different available days for each city. Most cities are moving to frozen food over the next week according to city press releases. 

Anaheim and Santa Ana have also closed their senior centers, but with no current meal plan. Santa Ana will begin dispensing frozen meals at the city’s senior center on Mar. 19, and Anaheim will do the same for its seniors.  

Cities Seek to Continue Meals-on-Wheels for Seniors

The cities of Irvine, Newport Beach, Fullerton, Westminster, and Tustin were working Monday to keep their meals-on-wheels programs for seniors open, but have closed the centers to any other activity to prevent further spread to the community. 

The meals on wheels system will be largely pick-up based, with different available days for each city. Most cities are moving to frozen food over the next week according to city press releases. 

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea also said that the city will keep its senior shuttles available to make sure seniors can reach the hospital and grocery stores in their area. 

Anaheim and Santa Ana have also closed their senior centers, but with no current meal plan. Santa Ana will begin dispensing frozen meals at the city’s senior center on Mar. 19, and there was no statement as of mid-day Monday from the city of Anaheim on if or when a meal plan will be offered by the city.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

Sonya Quick is digital editor at Voice of OC and can be reached at squick@voiceofoc.org or @sonyanews on Twitter.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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