Orange County and state officials are moving to ramp up testing as a key part of their strategy to reopen parts of the economy during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

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Meanwhile, public protests rallying against the state’s stay home orders are growing. 

Portions of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay home orders may be lifted soon as OC and the state haven’t seen the high levels of hospitalizations from the novel coronavirus that were originally predicted. 

“I think it’s important to point out that we do feel, as a county, that the state’s stay home order has been effective,” said County Health Officer Nichole Quick at the OC Supervisors Tuesday meeting. 

“We are not seeing the rapid doubling (of virus cases) that we were in the beginning,” Quick said. 

The virus has killed 34 people out of 1,753 confirmed cases, according to updated counts released Wednesday. There’s also 162 people hospitalized from the virus, including 70 people in intensive care units. 

The stay home orders were intended to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by virus patients. 

Yet after nearly a month, there are some signs of public frustration. 

Protests have popped up in San Clemente, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach since last Friday, with protestors citing a desire to get back to work. Others said the stay home order is government overreach, while some believe the virus is a lie, citing a variety of conspiracy theories.

More protests are slated in Newport Beach Friday and another in Orange next Monday. 

Quick noted the need for additional testing — both testing for a current infection, known as PCR testing and antibody testing, known as serological testing, that detects if a person has had the virus and if they have antibodies to fight it. 

“Without probably all the information we want … one of the things we look at and continue to look at is our severe illness and ICU [cases],” Quick told Supervisors. 

She noted the approach is “not ideal, that’s why we’re working so hard to get our testing numbers up.” 

At a Wednesday news conference, Newsom announced there are 100,000 testing swabs coming to the state this week and an additional 250,000 coming next week to bolster statewide testing efforts.

Testing shortages have plagued the country since the virus pandemic started. 

Because hospitals haven’t been strained, due to the stay home orders, Newsom said the state is going to allow hospitals to conduct surgeries again for conditions like tumors or heart issues. 

“What this is not and perhaps this is the easiest way to explain it, we’re not opening up to traditional cosmetic surgery … that is not one of the prioritizations,” Newsom said. 

While some researchers and epidemiologists have been advocating for mass antibody testing, the state secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, cautioned about moving too quickly with the serological testing. 

“I caution you that we are not there yet — that we are working with our academic partners and lab partners to move that forward in responsible and accelerated ways” on the antibody testing, Ghaly said during Newsom’s news conference. 

Meanwhile, the stay home orders have put millions of Californians out of work, as at least 2.7 million people have applied for unemployment insurance. 

The orders shut down non-essential businesses like bars, night clubs, dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events, concert halls, hair salons and a host of niche retailers. 

So many applications and calls have been made, the state Economic Development Department’s phone line automatically refers people to its website, which was also jammed up as of Wednesday afternoon. 

“The state of California has been very aggressive in its unemployment claims,” Newsom said. “Just last week, $2 billion of [unemployment] claims were disbursed —  just in one week.”  

OC Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner started meeting with OC business leaders Tuesday to begin forming plans to jumpstart the county’s economy once Newsom begins lifting other areas of the stay home orders. 

A variety of business owners are urging OC Supervisors to open the economy as soon as possible, according to an open letter published by the Los Angeles Times and in the Voice of OC. 

“State unemployment claims exceed 2.7 million while Orange County claims are in the tens of thousands. As long as we remain in lockdown, these numbers are projected to climb to catastrophic levels. It is time for the supervisors to lead the county and state in economic recovery,” reads the letter.

Newsom didn’t say when he plans to begin lifting parts of the orders, although he said if current trends hold, he could begin easing some of the orders. Although, he said, life won’t immediately be back to normal. 

At Tuesday’s supervisor meeting, Quick also said life will still look different, even after the orders start getting lifted. 

She said the CDC-recommended six-foot physical distancing guidelines will be put in place on restaurants and other businesses as the economy begins to reopen, which depends on Newsom.  

“We’re going to alter the way our normal is.” 

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 Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at or on Twitter @sonyanews.

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