Orange County has one of the highest numbers of people hospitalized for the novel coronavirus in California, despite daily data showing hospitalization rates are remaining relatively flat.
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The virus has killed 44 people out of 2,252 confirmed cases, according to updated counts released Wednesday. There are also 175 people hospitalized, including 70 people in intensive care units.
Gov. Gavin Newsom specifically brought up OC at a Wednesday news conference, after Supervisor Don Wagner clarified some of the confusion the business reopening guidelines issued Tuesday, after they were approved by the board.
“What we were saying is the Orange County [guidelines] satisfies Orange County. The sheriff will not come and ticket you, but the state orders and any local city orders remain in place,” Wagner told Newsom through a television reporter’s phone.
The reporter, Fox 11’s Hailey Winslow, was apparently in the middle of an interview with Wagner when Newsom’s news conference began taking questions from the press corps.
Newsom responded and said reopening the economy “won’t be on the basis of political considerations, it won’t be on the basis of pressure of what we want, but of what we need to do.”
The stay home orders issued by state health officials and the governor last month are expected to stay in place until at least mid-May and Newsom said decisions to slowly reopen the economy will be based on the public health experts.
“I will say about Orange County, it’s important, the Supervisor’s well aware of this: Orange County has the fourth highest number of people, of all 58 counties, hospitalized in the state of California. I’m concerned about that,” Newsom said. “So we have a lot of work to do to keep people healthy, to keep people safe. That’s the data and the data drives our decision making.”
OC is the third largest county in the state at roughly 3.17 million people.
The guidelines were formed through an ad hoc committee steered by Wagner and Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel, along with business leaders throughout OC.
When County Supervisors released the guidelines Tuesday, many people thought that it was a sign businesses can reopen.
But Wagner cautioned people during Tuesday’s meeting and said the guidelines are for when the state begins peeling back parts of the stay home order, which shut down non-essential businesses like bars, nightclubs, concert halls, theme parks and a host of non-food retailers.
Meanwhile, some OC coastal cities began relaxing some of their beach restrictions Tuesday, following crowded beaches last weekend in Newport Beach, where photographs made national headlines and went viral on social media.
Newsom said he’s going to issue an order addressing the issue very soon.
“Obviously those concerns were highlighted on Saturday in particular,” Newsom said.
On Monday he called the crowded beach pictures an example of “what not to do” and said scenes like that may delay any plans to reopen parts of the economy.
During the Wednesday news conference, Newsom said he’s been speaking with the coastal commission, local police departments and the California Highway Patrol about the beach situation.
“To really figure out what our next steps are and I can assure you that clarity will come in a very short period of time. As early as the afternoon today, as late as early tomorrow,” Newsom said.
Despite the county hospitalization numbers, County Health Officer Nichole Quick said OC is seeing the virus spread slow down.
“Trendwise, in Orange County, we continue to sort of see what our goal was with the California statewide stay home order and that is a slowing of transmission,” Quick said, during the virus update at Tuesday’s supervisor meeting.
“I think the key points right now on everybody’s mind are what does it take for Orange County to be prepared to move to the next phase,” Quick said.
She said there needs to be enough hospital beds to handle a spike in cases if the state’s orders are eased to allow businesses to reopen. And there needs to be a constant supply of testing kits and personal protective equipment coming to the County before that happens.
And Quick said County health officials are gearing up to conduct blood tests on 1,500 OC residents to determine how many people have had the virus before, using a representative sample from different parts of the county.
It’s part of an effort with researchers from the University of California, Irvine.
But, Quick warned, virus immunity is still being studied.
“We don’t know what that means long term. We don’t know if they’ll retain those antibodies. We also don’t know that having antibodies to COVID-19 means you won’t get the disease again,” Quick said. “So there’s a lot in public health that we don’t know.”
Quick also said they’re also speaking with UCI researchers for a larger antibody study and she’ll have more information at next Tuesday’s meeting
“The scientific community as a whole will be looking at whether or not people who show positive antibodies to it ever get an infection again and whether or not that infection is more mild and what that means.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County:
Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sonyanews.