Starting Friday afternoon, Orange County officials plan to release data each day showing how many residents of each city have tested positive for coronavirus, following weeks of news coverage and requests from the public.
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County officials planned a 1:30 p.m. news conference Friday to talk about the city-level data and answer questions from the press, with the data to be release at some point in the afternoon. Plans to release the data were first announced Wednesday.
Orange County health experts warn the raw city-level numbers could be misleading, by creating an impression that some cities are at lower or higher risk of the virus, when in fact the virus is circulating across the county. The data will only show where people live, and they could have been infected anywhere in the two weeks before they tested positive.
There also has been limited testing available in OC, and across the nation, as well as uneven access to it, which can account for differences in city counts.
It could seem like larger cities are more at risk even if they’re not, because raw numbers don’t take into account the size of a city’s population.
Some city managers also have expressed concerns about releasing such data and have pleaded for it not be shared.
The main message from health officials at the county, state and federal level is that the public should be cautious about coronavirus everywhere, and that the most effective tool to stop the spread is to maintain six-foot distance from others as much as possible.
“There is community transmission occurring in Orange County, regardless of where you are in Orange County. We all need to be taking precautions that the governor has ordered around social distancing, around staying home unless you’re an essential worker or going out to get groceries. If you’re ill, stay home,” said David Souleles, deputy director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, during a news conference Wednesday.
“If we are not all-in on this, it won’t be effective. We need to be all-in as a community to protect and preserve the health of our community and [the health of] the most vulnerable among us,” he added.
“Our goal with social distancing…is to spread out cases over time so that our hospitals are able to effectively respond and not be overburdened.”
The data release comes as officials try to prepare for a wave of coronavirus cases to hit local hospitals that say they’re facing an overwhelming shortage of protective gear.
The OC Fairgrounds is being pursued as an overflow hospital site, possible a field hospital to be set up by the California National Guard, as is being done at the Riverside County Fairgrounds.
And in response to a state directive, OC officials are trying to set up 2,300 new emergency homeless shelter beds in OC, with social distancing, to help slow the virus’ spread.
OC was days behind its neighboring counties, like LA and San Diego, in releasing city-level data. The issue became a rallying cry among many residents questioning why Orange County was not being as transparent as other counties.
The decision to release the data comes after days of questions and concerns from the public about why the city-level data weren’t being released. Those concerns were highlighted in a Voice of OC article Tuesday that was widely shared.
While some city officials have wanted the data released, others have expressed strong concerns it could stigmatize their community and affect business in their city.
Amid a shortage of tests and hospital protective equipment, people with mild and moderate coronavirus symptoms are being asked to isolate themselves at home for weeks and avoid contact with their family members as much as possible, to avoid spreading the virus.
That’s the strategy across the United States, though public health experts have cautioned that having ill people isolate at home risks infecting their family members. Many leading health experts are calling for opening up facilities at large centers, such as at convention centers, where people with mild COVID-19 symptoms have the option to recover without risking infection to their families.
There continued to be concerns Wednesday about a shortage in OC – and across the nation – of N95 masks and other critical protective equipment for hospital staff, paramedics, law enforcement, and other first responders. Orange County has requested at least 1 million N95 masks, and it wasn’t clear Wednesday how many of those were on the way.
Hospitals and other emergency medical responders are facing an “overwhelming” shortage of face masks and other protective equipment at to fight coronavirus, according to a report Monday from county officials that was obtained by Voice of OC.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.