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Orange County’s lead Health Care Agency officials are facing intense criticism, even direct threats, over Public Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick’s mandatory mask order she issued over the weekend. 


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At Tuesday’s public county supervisors meeting, Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel questioned the effectiveness of masks and if they help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and pushed back hard against the assertions made by health care officials. 

OC Health Care Agency Director, Dr. Clayton Chau, defended the use of masks saying they help because some people don’t know they’re sick, pointing out CDC recommendations about the masks. 

“Wearing masks is not to protect yourselves. Wearing masks is to protect others,” Chau said. “Number two, is you don’t know if you have the infection because you could be asymptomatic.”

Steel continued her questioning Chau’s assertions about masks, something he quickly challenged.

“Do you have any science-based – that, you know– ” Steel said.

“Yes, yes. I just read [to] you from CDC [guidelines],” Chau shot back. “I would be happy to print out all the research papers that [were] published, and send it forward, to the board.”

He also said the masks will help since OC’s businesses are beginning to reopen and people will be leaving their homes. State guidelines on the reopenings mandate masks for businesses that can’t keep people at least six feet away from each other, much like Quick’s order.  

“The number barely looked good. You have to have some means of protection from the spreading, otherwise you’re asking for trouble. We know our numbers telling us the infection is still there,” Chau said, referring to hospitalizations, deaths and virus case counts. 

Orange County has seen the three of its highest death counts in the past week. Hospitalizations are also ticking up.

So far, the virus has now killed 131 people out of 5,578 confirmed cases, according to Tuesday’s updated numbers. There were also 269 people hospitalized, with 106 in intensive care units. There were also just over 105,000 tests conducted for the virus throughout the county, which is home to nearly 3.2 million people. Nearly 2,000 people have recovered from the virus, so far. 

“It is saying that infection is still happening and people are still getting sick,” Chau said of the numbers after presenting them publicly at Tuesday’s county supervisors’ meeting. . 

Scores of residents lambasted the mask order during public comments. Many questioned the effectiveness, while others said it violates health law. Some called for Quick to be fired over the mask order. 

A few said they would show up to Quick’s house to protest.

Later, someone claiming to have Quick’s address, read it aloud during public comment. 

At the time, supervisors didn’t say anything.

Later in the meeting, Steel abruptly raised the issue.

“It seems like one of the speakers announced Dr. Quick’s home address, and so she’s no longer on the phone. This is really dangerous … We have to give her credit that [over the last] little over two months, that she really worked hard and she tried to work with us,” Steel said. This is not really fair that [people are] attacking Dr. Quick personally. And I really condemn that.”

Supervisor Don Wagner – who has been publicly critical of Quick’s order – also condemned the move and said, “The threats against Dr. Quick are absolutely unacceptable in a civilized society.” 

Apparently, Quick is also being provided some protection by law enforcement. 

“And I understand she’s perhaps had some sheriff’s or other protection in the last couple of days or weeks or so. And the need for that cannot be condemned in strong-enough language – regardless of disagreements on policy or public health issues,” Wagner said. “And the sheriff would be well within his rights and encouraged, I think by all five of us, to act quickly to protect her, her family, her loved ones.”

Although he defended her against any potential threats, Wagner criticized Quick and the Health Care Agency for having too much power. 

“Why is it a bad idea? It undermines the rule of law. It undermines the very work the members of the community have done the past two months,” Wagner said. “We are not supposed to turn over all the decisions to the so-called experts.” 

Wagner said the Board of Supervisors should debate the policy and not leave it up to Quick or the Health Care Agency. 

Supervisors declared a state of emergency in February, when the virus first began appearing stateside. The move gave Quick a broad range of authority, like the ability to issue mask orders. 

Supervisor Andrew Do took a lighter approach to the mask debate and asked Chau to have Quick listen to the public’s concerns over the mask order and the Board debate. 

“To address the concerns,” Do said. “See if there’s a way to accommodate the sentiment that we see.” 

“The law is kind of a two way street. If it’s unreasonable, you almost invite insurrection and we don’t want that. We already heard from the Sheriff,” he said. 

Earlier in the meeting, OC Sheriff Don Barnes said his deputies won’t be enforcing the mask order. 

Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Doug Chaffee were silent on the mask debate. 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at squick@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @sonyanews.

Reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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