Orange County may see its bars and pubs shut down again, less than a month after they reopened, because of the continuing spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
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OC interim health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said he’ll make a decision at some point this week.
“We are in consideration right now,” Chau said at a Tuesday news conference. “I’m looking at the data and I’m discussing with my county counsel, so yes, more to come.”
Chau’s announcement comes on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statement he could shut down more businesses and increase enforcement of state health orders and guidelines, like the mandatory masks.
“Tomorrow we will be making some additional announcements on that dimmer switch we refer to,” Newsom said. “We will be making announcements on enforcement tomorrow.”
Bars in Los Angeles and Riverside counties have been ordered to shut down ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.
Newsom could also withhold $2.5 billion in state funding from counties that refuse to follow health orders and guidelines. A large portion of that money is used by social services to fund food stamps and welfare programs.
Nobody in Orange County has specifically said if they’ll enforce the statewide mask order or not.
“That’s a very hard question for me,” Chau said. “We follow the state health guidelines and the [OC] Health Care Agency is not the enforcer.”
Andrew Do, member of the county Board of Supervisors, who was also at Tuesday’s news conference, said officials may have to wait to see Newsom’s strategy plays out.
“It’s a rather difficult question to answer because it is speculative in nature. We can’t anticipate what the governor will be relying on and what he is finding and what the ultimate decision will be,” Do said. “So I would defer until the time until such an action, if it happens, then at that point we will respond.”
Orange County’s coronavirus trends continue to worsen as Independence Day weekend draws near, especially in its two largest cities, Anaheim and Santa Ana, where county officials have formed a task force to address the disproportionate impacts of the virus.
Although the two cities make up roughly 40% of cases across the county, they account for roughly 20% of the OC’s 3.2 million residents.
Orange County has been placed on the state Department of Public Health’s watchlist for its spiking virus trends, which go over state thresholds.
The county has more than four times the threshold of 25 positive tests per 100,000 residents and its testing positivity rate is nearly 10%, which is two percent higher than the state threshold.
And the county still has 41% of its intensive care unit beds available — where people who are put on ventilators are placed.
The virus has now killed 340 people, including 10 new deaths reported Tuesday, out of 13,843 confirmed cases, according to the county’s updated numbers.
There were 510 people hospitalized, including 176 in intensive care units.
Nearly 7,500 people have recovered so far and over 233,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC.
Orange County has been added to the state watchlist because trends have exceeded thresholds set by state health officials, like hospitalization and case positivity rates.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to reduce the impact to Anaheim and Santa Ana.
A coalition of county health officials, school district superintendents, UC Irvine researchers and city council members from both cities have partnered with the nonprofit Latino Health Access to help bring mobile testing sites to the most impacted neighborhoods, which tend to be working-class, Latino communities.
Chau has been working with Latino Health Access Chief Executive Officer America Bracho to help form the coalition.
“From day one, back in March … we saw what was coming. And we saw just because we are there — those are communities where essential workers live. We have situations also with overcrowded housing,” Bracho said at Tuesday’s news conference.
The group’s 40 community workers live in those neighborhoods.
Sociologists, epidemiologists and community leaders said the virus is hitting those neighborhoods hard because residents are essential workers who don’t have the luxury of working from home, coupled with overcrowded housing.
Anaheim’s cases were at 2,591 on Tuesday, or nearly 19% of OC’s total cases.
Santa Ana had nearly 21% of OC’s total cases at 2,850.
“We want to educate our residents as to the increased risk of COVID-19. Now we want people to know that there are things they can do to protect themselves, but also resources at the county that we provide that can help keep families safe,” Do said during Tuesday’s news conference.
He said residents don’t need to fear questions about their immigration status.
“I also want to emphasize that undocumented residents should not be fearful from getting tested,” Do said.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said data shows the most cases are in zip codes from the two cities.
“The county determined that there were 8 zip codes that were hotspots that needed special attention. These zip codes are all in the cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana,” Chaffee said. “We knew we needed a special program. So to that end, we are partnering with Latino Health Access and we very quickly executed a contract with them.”
The program will also include motel stays for people who live in overcrowded housing and test positive for the virus.
The Santa Ana Unified School District is ready to jump on board, said Susie Lopez-Guerra at a Monday virtual news conference.
“Santa Ana has committed our entire school support system to fight and engage in this wonderful opportunity for our families,” Lopez-Guerra said. “We have engaged with local motels and hotels, and food agencies … we’re excited to see that we are going to be able to support additional families.”
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio