Amidst an effort to start free, widespread Coronavirus testing across the region, Orange County Supervisors also wrestled Tuesday with how to reopen some aspects of life, like golf courses, while regulating others, like masks for retail employees, adopting a patchwork of policies as the novel coronavirus slowly spreads throughout the county.
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For some county supervisors, the process is proving to be a bit messy.
“This isn’t a rational or coherent way of going about making public policy,” Supervisor Don Wagner said at Tuesday’s meeting, criticizing individual adoption of guidelines.
Wagner warned there needs to be consistency in guidelines and orders coming from the Board of Supervisors.
“We’re all over the map here,” he told his colleagues.
Meanwhile, the virus has killed 33 out of 1,691 confirmed cases as of the latest numbers released by the county Tuesday afternoon. There’s also 148 people hospitalized, including 54 people in intensive care units.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett proposed totally closing down OC beaches for the next two weeks because the incoming warm weather will attract people from San Diego and Los Angeles counties since their beaches are closed, she said.
Supervisors last month closed beach and trailhead parking lots but left the recreation sites open for public use advising social distancing.
“We’re getting inundated in our coastal communities from San Diego, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire,” Bartlett said.
She said local officials in the coastal cities have been lobbying her for help. But her proposal died for a lack of support.
Although her beach proposal failed, Bartlett was able to get the board to pass golf course guidelines offering golf courses guidance on how to open for recreational usage — encouraging sanitizing the golf carts, implementing the CDC recommended six-foot physical distancing by staggering tee times and removing commonly touched items like ball washers.
Supervisors also wrestled with that proposal, questioning if it should be a strong set of guidelines or mandates.
“Spending 20 minutes of talking about golf course operations is probably not something the public wants to hear from us,” Supervisor Andrew Do told his colleagues.
“Let’s just make it broad, Let’s stay within what’s prescribed with social distancing and sanitary practices. Let’s not get into the weeds here,” he said.
A proposal from Do requiring face masks for retail and food preparation employees narrowly passed by a 3-2 vote. Supervisor Michelle Steel and Wagner dissented.
“I’m feeling like we’re getting sort of whipsawed here,” Wagner said, noting the patchwork of policies Supervisors already considered.
County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick recommended essential employees wear cloth masks earlier this month.
Beginning Friday, those non-medical grade masks will be required for employees at grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations, pharmacies and food preparation workers.
“What are we doing? What is our message to the public?” Wagner asked his colleagues.
Steel agreed with him, saying the County should provide consistency.
“I think we have to be consistent here with what our advice is to the people,” Steel said.
“For employees who serve the public, they have no choice but to violate that social distance. They have to. There’s no way you can do a transaction six feet away and these employees come into contact with hundreds of people in the course of their shift,” he said.
Steel, Wagner and business leaders are slated to meet later today to begin hammering out a plan to reopen businesses around OC, once Gov. Gavin Newsom begins to lift the stay home orders.
While reopening sectors of the economy largely depend on Newsom, OC health officials also said it depends on the amount of virus testing.
County health officials also announced expanding the county’s novel coronavirus testing abilities by setting six additional locations, aiming to expand testing by an additional 600 people a day.
Orange County Health Care Agency Assistant Director, David Souleles, said the testing will be expanded to people showing any virus symptoms, and no longer reserved for those only showing severe symptoms.
He said expanded testing sites will be in Anaheim, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove and sites in south and central county through University of California, Irvine’s facilities.
Supervisors expressed interest in antibody testing, which is a blood test that looks for traces of the virus to determine if someone has already had the virus and built an immunity.
State and OC health officials said the antibody tests are a key to reopening the economy.
Quick said 1,500 people will be tested throughout different parts of OC to estimate a level of virus immunity, known as “herd immunity.”
“So you’re getting a representative sample of your population to tell you what your herd immunity is,” Quick said. “We can’t just open [the economy] up and expect not to see rapidly increasing cases.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County: