Orange County residents are asking for the list of cities with confirmed coronavirus cases to be made public, but county leaders have resisted, citing concerns that regardless of where cases have presented, it doesn’t mean that other cities are safe from the virus.
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“I just want to make sure that we are not sending the message that it’s isolated in these cities,” said Richard Sanchez, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, at the county board of supervisors meeting last Tuesday, March 17.
Sanchez has just been tapped to run the county’s health care plan for the poor and elderly, called CalOptima.
As HCA Director, he defended current policy.
“We want to be clear – and you can see it from the messaging both from the federal government and the state government – to be vigilant…anywhere you’re at in the entire United States. And so, to lead the public down a path of, ‘Oh I can avoid that part of the county and I’ll be okay’ – that is not the message we want to send. [We] need to be vigilant at all times.”
On Monday, Orange County announced 30 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 125 cases. Thirty-eight of the confirmed cases came from community transmission according to the health care agency’s website.
Sanchez also shared concerns that listing cities where confirmed cases lived would violate the patients’ privacy, and county executive officer Frank Kim said that some cities in the county have asked that their counts not be made public at last Tuesday’s supervisor meeting.
However, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health launched a site that displays the number of confirmed cases in each city, including the patient’s age range and the total number of hospitalized patients.
San Diego County has also released the location of all confirmed cases, but has also confirmed that at this point the information can’t help residents in a disclaimer underneath the statistics.
“COVID-19 now has reached community transmission status, which means people may have contracted the illness elsewhere in the County. This may not necessarily be in the city where they live. These data should not be interpreted as an indication of activity in any specific location.”
Orange County is also behind on its total number of tested cases. As of Sunday evening, San Diego County reported over 2,300 tests, 700 tests more than Orange County’s 1,585 tests from both commercial labs and the county health care agency.
Seeing what other counties have done, Orange County residents have asked county leadership to consider opening up locational data on confirmed cases. The website currently shows the gender and age of all confirmed cases, along with how the person contracted the virus.
Currently, most of the cases in Orange County came from travel abroad or contact with someone who had just returned from travel, but community transmission is continuing to grow.
“I’ve got people looking at me saying, ‘Why won’t you at least tell us where they are?’” county supervisor Don Wagner said.
County Emergency Operations Center spokeswoman Carrie Braun said the county could not share more information, and that Public Health Services staff are closely monitoring each confirmed case.
“We cannot provide confirmation of details around individual cases outside of those publicly posted to the OC Health Care Agency’s dedicated website,” Braun said in an email to Voice of OC. “When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, he or she is placed under isolation.”
Heidi Zimmerman, a homeless advocate in Anaheim, said that the county’s decision to not publicize where confirmed cases were would lead to people taking the issue less seriously.
“If people see that city on a list, they’re on high alert,” Zimmerman said. ““I think that if people knew where the virus was, they’d be more careful in their neighborhood. So, you’re giving people a false sense of security.”
Zimmerman also disagreed with county leaders that residents would take the data as a sign their city was not infected.
“I was shocked to see that the virus is so widespread, I wasn’t expecting it to be in so many cities and I realized this is everywhere,” Zimmerman said after looking at LA County’s confirmed cases. “When you see that, you can’t just think it’s in one place in Orange County, it’s probably in a lot of cities here too.”
“It’s time to be honest with the residents of OC. All of us deserve to know whether or not it’s in our community.”