Orange County’s novel coronavirus cases topped 1,000 as schools, courts, city halls and large swaths of the economy have shut down to try to limit the spread of the virus.
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As of Wednesday afternoon, the virus killed 17 people in the county, with 1,016 confirmed cases out of nearly 12,000 people tested. There’s also 99 people hospitalized, with 59 in intensive care units.
“While we want to provide information that best educates our community during this pandemic, it’s important to understand that hospitalization numbers capture a point in time and will fluctuate daily,” said Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick in a news release.
“Looking at historical data over a period of weeks can give us a better understanding of trends in our community,” she said.
The central jail in Santa Ana is on full lockdown after 10 inmates and two sheriff’s deputies tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
At Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting, OC Sheriff Don Barnes said 19 inmates are isolated and the department has tested 30 inmates for the virus.
“We are isolating anybody that has flu-like symptoms in our jail,” Barnes told supervisors.
An additional 139 are quarantined and the sheriff’s department has stopped taking in people for minor warrants.
“So for example we have stopped accepting our counties misdemeanor citations or misdemeanor warrants if it’s less than a bench warrant or it’s not a certain crime,” Barnes said.
“If you are in another county and somebody stopped an individual with an Orange County warrant, they would issue them a citation to come back to court and appear on that warrant. But they wouldn’t arrest them, take them to their jail, hold them for five days and transfer them to our jail,” Barnes said.
But questions are mounting over arraignments since the courts have largely shut down, Barnes said.
“Roughly several hundred individuals that need to be arraigned,” Barnes said. “That concerns me that there’s individuals who might be eligible for release but haven’t gotten the opportunity to be released and come back to court on their own recognisance.”
The county’s top criminal justice officials have struck an agreement to let prosecutors and public defenders appear for court hearings electronically through video meetings, after a month of concern over how the courts would continue functions like arraignments and custody hearings while maintaining social distancing under health separation guidelines.
An agreement signed by the court, OC Public Defender Sharon Petrosino, District Attorney Todd Spitzer, and Sheriff Don Barnes outlines each office’s commitment to providing video equipment to their employees to appear virtually “for most matters other than preliminary hearings and trials.”
Barnes said the 331 inmates who were released early are “low-level offenders, non-violent, non-serious offenses who have already been sentenced.”
The Sheriff’s Department also released 108 medically vulnerable inmates early, which are part of the 331 number.
“They don’t know what the charges are, they just identify those based on the at-risk population,” Barnes said.
Under the agreement, Theoretically, Barnes can release all the inmates if the outbreak gets bad enough, he said.
“The order that allows me, under emergency conditions, to release is – is broad. It’s very nondescript. It says I can release anybody. And I don’t believe that that was intended to be – I guess we could get severe enough where that might one day be the case,” Barnes said.
“That is not the case today, [that] we’re going to have carte blanche and release people wantonly from the jail without some type of review and regard for the public’s safety, if we do make that choice [to] release somebody from our custody,” he said.
Meanwhile, an order requiring masks for essential employees is expected to come from County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick. The order won’t be for employees to wear the medical grade n95 or similar masks.
OC Director of Public Health Services, David Souleles, said Quick was meeting with staff at the emergency operations center Tuesday to form the new health order, the same time he was giving the novel coronavirus update to county supervisors.
“The health officer is looking at, essentially, an order around face coverings for essential workers,” Souleles said. “It brings us into better alignment with surrounding jurisdictions.”
He didn’t have other specifics on the order.
Irvine issued an order Wednesday requiring all retail and bank employees to wear masks.
Here’s the latest on Coronavirus numbers across Orange County.
Here’s the latest updates on Coronavirus numbers across Orange County, as of April 8.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.