For weeks, other counties, states and nations have been reporting how many of their residents are known to have recovered from COVID-19 infections.
Orange County has not.
Yet after repeated questions in recent weeks – from Voice of OC, county supervisors and the public – county officials say they’re now starting to look into collecting such information.
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“Per our Assistant Director Lilly Simmering, the OC Health Care Agency is looking at a process for gathering and reporting an accurate number of those who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 and since recovered,” agency spokeswoman Jessica Good said last week in an emailed response to Voice of OC’s questions.
Health Care Agency officials declined to say when the recoveries data will start to be reported.
“Those discussions, which will involve research and public health staff, are in the beginning stages at this time,” Good said.
Riverside County, just east of OC, has been reporting its recoveries for more than a month. As of Tuesday, 1,997 people had recovered in Riverside County, out of 4,454 confirmed infections, according to the county’s website.
For weeks, residents and elected officials alike have been asking county officials for recovery data, saying it would be help provide hope and more understanding next to data on deaths and known infections.
Tracking recoveries also is critical to understanding the disease itself, including crucial questions of how long immunity lasts, according to medical experts.
“The more data that we get, the better we’re able to understand the disease. It’s a new disease. It works in different ways. it has different systems, different outcomes, and the most data we get on that the better,” said Dr. Paul Yost, a doctor and chairman of CalOptima the public agency that is the largest health insurer in Orange County.
Disease researchers say they’re still trying to find out how much immunity – and for how long – people have after they’ve recovered from COVID-19.
“People want to see,” OC Supervisors’ Chairwoman Michelle Steel said at the supervisors’ meeting last Tuesday, referring to the recovery numbers.
“When we have 2,800 infected, I think 2,800 are not all infected as of now, because there are so many people recovered. I think we should really put how many recovered [in] that report that comes out every day,” Steel said.
While Riverside County started reporting recoveries in early April, Orange County had not as of Wednesday, May 6.
When asked about it on April 27, county officials told Voice of OC recovery data isn’t valuable enough to justify using limited staff, testing supplies and protective equipment.
“We do not track recoveries for a few reasons,” said Marc Meulman, Orange County’s chief of operations for public health services, in an emailed response to Voice of OC’s questions on April 27.
“Early on, cases were cleared from isolation based on testing and negative results; however, that is not feasible with the large amount of cases,” Meulman wrote. “Currently [people with confirmed COVID infections] are given guidance regarding monitoring of symptoms, which is mostly self-monitored and less objective than a test result.”
“Tracking recovered cases is very resource intensive, whether the testing approach or the symptoms approach. The former requires use of [personal protective equipment], testing supplies, medical personnel, laboratory services, etc. and the latter require daily monitoring by health department personnel which, given the number of cases is resource intensive,” he added.
“Tracking recovered doesn’t provide data that is as valuable as the resources needed to get it. Most people recover, it’s just a matter of how long, which varies depending on the individual circumstances. Knowing how many have recovered at any given point in time isn’t helpful information to inform the response or prevention.”
Asked again Tuesday when the recovery data will be made available, county officials said they were still in the early stages of looking into it and would discuss it at Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting.
“Providing hospital recovery information is something the [Health Care Agency] will discuss and will report back on at the next meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors,” said Good, the agency’s spokeswoman, in her emailed response last week to Voice of OC.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.