Orange County released new information on confirmed coronavirus cases in cities with smaller populations this past week as residents asked for more transparency on where the virus has spread in the community.
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As testing has expanded in Orange County and nationwide, the number of confirmed cases has continued to climb. April 1st saw the highest number of new cases confirmed in a single day for the county, with 107 new cases after several days of much lower numbers.
The county also reported three new deaths, bringing the total to ten.
Currently, almost 7,300 people in Orange County have been tested for the virus, including private labs, but tests are still not available for anyone who wants them.
Going forward, cities with less than 25,000 people that report at least 5 cases will be featured in the county health agency’s daily update according to public information officer Carrie Braun.
Until now, the county didn’t publish the case results for smaller cities individually. Instead, they were grouped with the unincorporated portions of the county under a separate category.
Laguna Beach has reported the largest numbers of these cities, with 25 confirmed cases. La Palma, Seal Beach, and Villa Park all followed at six or less cases.
Orange County has lagged behind both Los Angeles and San Diego counties in reporting citywide statistics and information on hospitalized patients, but has been working to catch up over the past week.
Originally, county leaders cited privacy concerns as their reason for not publicizing the numbers, and county executive officer Frank Kim later said that multiple cities had reached out requesting that the numbers not be disclosed.
But after multiple requests from the public, the county published the citywide case counts for the first time last Friday.
But on Tuesday, county officials announced that the cities would begin releasing more detailed data for each of those cities as residents from those cities reached out with concerns.
The only cities on the list without a stated total are Laguna Woods and Los Alamitos, who’s case counts are still included with the unincorporated land in OC for a total of 16 cases.
Health experts are warning that the citywide statistics aren’t an accurate reflection of where the virus is in Orange County, as residents could have picked it up in one city and then tested positive for it closer to home.
“I just want to make sure that we are not sending the message that it’s isolated in these cities,” said Richard Sanchez, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, at a county board of supervisors meeting in March. “To lead the public down a path of, ‘Oh I can avoid that part of the county and I’ll be okay’ – that is not the message we want to send. [We] need to be vigilant at all times.”
According to health experts, hospitalization numbers are a far better gauge to see the effects of the virus without reliable access to testing.
According to the health care agency, Orange County’s hospitalized cases dropped significantly with today’s results, from 94 to 67 cases, but the number of people in intensive care only dropped by two.
Over the weekend, the number of new reported cases dropped significantly, but Sanchez made it clear that those aren’t representative of the virus’ condition in OC.
Supervisor Michelle Steel, who is also running for congress in CA-48, Sanchez if the lower number of reported cases over the weekend meant the virus was beginning to recede, but Sanchez said those numbers probably don’t represent where the virus is at.
“I think it would be false to say the current case count is going down so we’re trending downward,” Sanchez said. “Many people have mild symptoms and will never get tested. We don’t really know the true count of people who may have COVID-19 in Orange County because we don’t have that testing capability.”
Sanchez said that county staff are preparing for whatever could be coming next, and that they hope for the best but are preparing for the worst-case scenario, including preparing overflow hospitals at the Orange County Fairgrounds and Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa.