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Orange County public health officials are looking to partner with state efforts to increase testing capabilities for the novel coronavirus as Gov. Gavin Newsom hinted at reopening some of the economy in the coming weeks, but warned against large beach crowds.
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“There will be several locations in Orange County. Those are yet to be determined,” said OC Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick at a Monday news conference when asked about testing.
“Once those are confirmed on our end … we will be sure to let the public know about that,” she said.
The increased testing is seen as a key factor by Quick and state health officials in opening up parts of the economy.
The other key to that equation is the increased tracking of people who’ve contracted the virus, where officials will look for things like who that person has come into contact with and where they spend most of their time. The tracking could help minimize future outbreaks.
The virus has killed 39 people out of 2,126 confirmed cases in OC, according to updated counts released Monday. So far, 26,347 people have been tested for the virus.
Quick also said County officials are still finalizing plans to do serological testing on 1,500 OC residents in an effort to determine how many people have had the virus already, based on a sampling determined by University of California, Irvine researchers.
Serological testing is a blood test that looks for certain antibodies in a person, which are produced in a person’s immune system in response to a virus.
At a Monday news conference, Newsom said he plans on laying out some plans Tuesday to begin reopening the economy.
But plans to reopen the economy could be pushed back if virus cases begin to spike.
“However, that’s driven by data, driven by behavior,” Newsom said. “This virus doesn’t take the weekends off.”
Newsom criticized Orange County and Newport Beach for large groups of people gathered on beaches over the weekend and mentioned photographs that made national headlines and went viral on social media.
“Those are the images that we saw over the weekend. The images down in Orange County, in Ventura County on our beaches. Those images are an example of … what not to do,” Newsom said.
He said if people don’t follow the CDC-recommended six-foot distancing guidelines, it could further delay reopening the economy.
“That’s why I cannot impress upon you more … that we can’t see the images like we saw, particularly on Saturday in Newport Beach and elsewhere,” Newsom said.
OC Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel offered a different assessment than Newsom during the county’s news conference.
“I want to let you know that my office spoke with the Newport Beach Police Department to confirm that there were no incidents reported over this weekend,” Steel said. “We want our neighbors to be able to get fresh air and exercise … this plays a big role in mental health.”
“The local beaches are an ideal place to do so as long as our residents are properly maintaining social distancing,” Steel said.
She said beachgoers were following the six-foot physical distancing guidelines for the most part and the County plans on leaving its beaches open.
Quick said OC health officials are encouraging people to spend time outside and exercise in their own neighborhoods.
“If you need a car to reach the place you’re recreating, you’re going too far,” Quick said.
Meanwhile, OC Parks Director Stacy Blackwood said the County-run beach parking lots have been closed.
Only 16 percent of OC’s coastline is operated by the County, Blackwood said.
She also said any additional beach closures or restrictions would fall to the coastal cities who run their own beaches, unless mandated by the state.
“If the state health order changes and mandates a closure of all public beach facilities statewide, that would influence the local jurisdiction as well. To the extent the governor is suggesting an additional operational or enforcement strategy and doesn’t change the health order, in that case it will be subject to the decision making of the local jurisdiction,” Blackwood said.
Newsom applauded Newport Beach City Council’s proposal to shut down its beaches at its meeting tomorrow.
He said state officials may do something similar.
“I want folks to know this — we’re doing the same at the state as well.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County: