Orange County officials are moving to test at least 4,000 people a day for the novel coronavirus in a series of partnerships with health clinics and state testing sites, with county supervisors releasing drafted guidelines to reopen businesses, which depend on state orders.
Editor’s Note: As Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom, Voice of OC brings you the best, most comprehensive local Coronavirus news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. We need your help. Please, click here to make a tax-deductible donation today to support your local news.
During Tuesday’s County Supervisors public meeting, the Health Care Agency’s acting director of Public Health Services Lilly Simmering said the agency’s immediate goal is to get 10 separate testing sites set up around the county.
There’s currently six testing sites running as of Tuesday, according to the agency’s website.
Simmering laid out points Supervisors should consider before moving to reopen sectors of the economy, which largely depend on Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“Does the entire Orange County health care system have the capacity to test all those that need to be tested? Do they have the lab capacity to run all those tests?” Simmering said. “We should be thinking about what’s about to come and the consequences, as opposed to what is right now at this point in time … we need to start planning on what’ it’s going to look like.”
The virus has killed 42 people out of 2,151 confirmed cases, according to update counts posted Tuesday. Just over 27,700 people have been tested so far.
Supervisor Don Wagner, who sits on the economic recovery committee with Chairwoman Michelle Steel, said their plans for reopening OC depend on Newsom and the state health department easing orders.
“They have the force of law,” Wagner said during Tuesday’s public meeting. “So it’s beyond our power as a matter of law … to reopen Orange County. So what are we trying to do here? We are trying to find guidelines that will demonstrate best practices.”
OC Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick told Supervisors cases will likely increase once the stay home orders begin easing up.
Before reopenings happen, Quick said the County needs a constant supply stream of personal protective equipment, like masks, gloves and suits, along with a steady supply of testing kits so County health officials can track and isolate virus cases in an effort to prevent more outbreaks. Hospital and intensive care unit beds need to be ready also, she said.
Meanwhile, Newsom hinted at easing some stay home restrictions to allow some businesses to reopen soon.
Non-essential businesses that can operate at a lower health risk may reopen in “a matter of weeks, not months,” Newsom said at a Tuesday news conference.
“If we pull back too quickly … it could start a second wave that could be even more damaging than the first,” Newsom said.
Newsom also said the school year could come earlier.
“The schools are shut down for the remainder of the school year … we recognize there’s been a learning loss,” Newsom said. “So we are considering the prospect of an even earlier school year into the fall. As early as late July, early August … we have made no decisions definitively.”
California Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Sonia Angell, said the non-essential that could see reopenings within the next few weeks would be manufacturing and office-type jobs that could follow the CDC-recommended six-foot physical distancing.
Businesses like hair or nail salons won’t be included in the first round of business reopenings because that type of work requires people to be next to each other, Angell said.
Like Quick, Angell said the reopenings largely depend on hospital bed availability, a steady supply of personal protective equipment and testing kits.
It also depends if positive case numbers and hospitalizations don’t see a dramatic spike, Angell said.
“They need to remain stable for us to remain confident where we are in a position where the stay at home orders could be modified,” Angell said.
Quick has also said hospitalization and case numbers need to remain relatively stable before reopenings can happen.
The last sector of the economy that is slated to reopen is the tourism, sports and convention industries.
Newsom said those industries will reopen in “months, not weeks,” but didn’t give a more specific timeframe.
That means cities like Anaheim could see financial woes last longer, since the city treasury gets roughly 58 percent of its general fund money from the Disneyland resort area, mostly through a 15 percent hotel bed tax, along with a sizable chunk from sales tax.
More than half of that, $114.3 million goes back to the resort area to pay down bonds and provide for police and fire services, according to budget documents.
Anaheim is home to Disneyland, The Los Angeles Angels, The Ducks and a Convention Center. All those venues are closed.
City revenues have dried up since the March 19 stay home order came down from the state.
Newsom warned if cases spike, any economic reopening will be delayed.
“What I just said could substantially change if the data changes.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Since you've made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.
Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.