Orange County Public Health Officer Abruptly Resigns Under Pressure Over Mask Order

Dr. Nichole Quick, the county health officer for Orange County, at a special county supervisors meeting the morning of Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

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Orange County’s Public Health Officer Nicole Quick abruptly resigned on Monday night after several intense weeks defending a mask order that quickly became controversial following a botched public rollout by the County of Orange the Friday before Memorial Day, just as county officials scrambled to reopen parts of Orange County’s economy amidst rising Coronavirus counts.

Quick is the third high ranking county health care agency executive to leave their post in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, raising questions about the stability of staffing inside the county’s public health system at a critical time.

Under police protection after receiving death threats, Quick had missed the last few county supervisors meetings and press conferences.

Under state law, as the local health official empowered by the California Department of Public Health, Quick had broad powers over closing or reopening the economy based on her medical opinions.

Yet Quick is also employed by Orange County supervisors, who hold very different views than Sacramento.

A delicate balancing act.

One that apparently proved too much.

Quick very clearly experienced a hard time reconciling her medical opinions in public with the stirring pushback she got from a vocal minority on the board of supervisors and from the public comment dais to reverse her mask order and speed up reopening of the economy.

Mindful of rising hospitalizations from Coronavirus in recent weeks, Quick publicly said last week she would not reverse her mask order in Orange County, especially as more places opened up.

That line keeps drawing an increasingly numerous and raucous crowd to the county supervisors’ weekly public meetings, vocally protesting Quick’s action.

Some protestors recently took aim at her personally, even issuing what officials deemed as death threats.

Protesters also gave out Quick’s home address at a public meeting and eventually showed up at her house with large banner that had photos of Quick, featuring a Hitler-style mustache.

County Supervisors’ Chairwoman Michelle Steel, who acts as presiding officer over weekly supervisor meetings, gave protestors unusual leeway on public cheers and jeers, courtesies not granted to any other group in recent memory.

Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner have both vocally questioned Quick’s mask order and restrictions on gatherings.

They both question whether Sacramento’s ordered closures make sense given what they see as low case counts in Orange County.

No supervisors have effectively defended Quick publicly from the dais.

To make matters worse, Quick also faced horrible public information rollouts for just about every one of the health orders she issued during her short tenure as Public Health Officer during the pandemic.

The public information efforts – something called out as vital in both federal and local pandemic disaster plans – have been so bad that just about every order the Quick has written has had to be rewritten shortly after being released.

That’s all about trying to play politics not craft policy.

“I’m disappointed she’s leaving us in this critical juncture as we try to reopen the county,” said Supervisor Don Wagner, one of Quick’s harshest questioners from the dais.

“You have to have a health officer in place,” Wagner said in order to be able to get the needed state approvals to open up.

Wagner doesn’t regret questioning Quick.

“Any public official, me or Dr. Quick, should be willing to stand in front of the public and answer tough questions,” Wagner said.

Ironically, Quick’s departure will likely open up the likelihood that supervisors will now place a friendly face in the slot – as they did with openings at the county health insurance plan for the poor and elderly, known as CalOptima, and the auditor controller office.

“Almost certainly, we will appoint an interim,” Wagner said.