Orange County officials are still figuring out how to split up the incoming $554 million in federal relief as the novel coronavirus continues to slowly spread throughout the county.
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Acknowledging that many cities are looking to tap into the federal relief, County of Orange CEO Frank Kim at a Thursday press conference, clarifying the funding would be tied to virus-related expenses and would be used to expand testing capabilities throughout the county. Testing shortages have been an issue that’s plagued not only OC, but the nation.
“I think first of all, counties and cities have incurred direct expenses related to [the virus]. So those costs, I think should be covered. Two, we know that we have to stand up a robust testing network,” Kim said at a Thursday news conference.
The virus has killed 36 people out of 1,827 confirmed cases in the county, according to updated counts released Thursday. There were also 158 people hospitalized, with 59 in intensive care units. And 20,816 people have been tested so far and County officials announced Tuesday they plan on greatly boosting testing numbers by partnering up with health clinics throughout OC.
Kim said a three-page guideline from the federal government stipulates the money can’t be used to replace lost revenue for cities.
“That money cannot be used to backfill loss of revenue in the County and the cities. So, I think that is a really important item to understand. We’re looking for more flexibility,” Kim said. “But that is the guidance today.”
Meanwhile, Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner continue meeting with OC business leaders to brainstorm how to reopen businesses.
“The committee looked at a variety of angles on how each respective industry would be able to reopen in a safe, efficient way,” Steel said.
She said the committee is also speaking with medical experts to reopen “when the time is right and to do so in a way that is medically safe … so we don’t risk an outbreak.”
Public Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick has said the virus hasn’t hit OC as hard as early projections stated, but has also warned against reopening things too quickly .
Kim also echoed Quick’s previous public comments.
“The county is performing well and I think we want to be cautious because you know at any time you can have a large virus infection,” Kim said.
Quick and Kim said the county is gearing up its medical staff for “contact tracing,” which is tracking someone who’s been near a positive virus case and monitoring them for signs of infection while they’re quarantined.
“Once we reopen businesses and individuals begin to congregate … we want to be ready for that,” Kim said.
And reopening can largely depend on serology testing — blood tests that show if someone has already had the virus through looking for antibodies.
“There are several approved serology tests. Quest (Diagnostics) announced this week they can now do serology testing,” Quick said.
Kim said Quest told him they can do up to 3,000 serology tests a day.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom is putting together a task force to study on when to begin lifting some of his stay-home orders. But the stay-home orders are likely to stay in place until at least mid-May, he said at various news conferences this week.
Since the stay home orders began March 19, millions of Californians have been either laid off or taken cuts in their employment hours.
More than 2.7 million people have applied for unemployment throughout the state since the stay home orders were put in place.
The demand on the Employment Development Department is so great, people who call in to begin their unemployment insurance applications are referred to the department’s website, which has been facing intermittent outages this week.
Many Californians are met with an automatic phone message from the employment department.
“We are currently receiving more calls than we can answer and are unable to assist you at this time. Please try again later.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County:
Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @sonyanews.