Orange County Supervisors continue to press their own county Health Care Agency officials’ over the handling of a mandated cloth mask order during the coronavirus pandemic, especially around the lack of public communication on health orders.
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“We’re hearing from our citizens that this is a government overreach,” Supervisor Don Wagner told health care staff at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Wagner cited various surrounding counties, like San Bernardino and Riverside, that don’t require residents wear masks in public.
“Doesn’t that undermine the evidence that is supposedly behind your order? Help us here,” he said to Orange County Public Health Officer Nicole Quick, who now participates in county supervisors’ meetings via phone after receiving a series of public threats over her mask order.
Health Care Agency Director, Dr. Clayton Chau, said the masks help prevent the virus from spreading.
“We don’t live in a bubble. People go from county to county — as we open up, people will travel,” Chau said. “Wearing a mask is to not protect yourself, it’s to protect other people, especially the vulnerable population.
The virus has now killed 150 people out of 6,574 confirmed cases, according to updated County numbers. There were also 240 people hospitalized, including 97 in intensive care units. Nearly 2,700 have recovered and just over 136,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
Wagner also pressed Quick, who issued the mask order, about what other county health officers have said about the masks.
“I don’t feel that I should be speaking on the dynamics of other counties,” Quick said over the phone on Tuesday.
Quick hasn’t been at a Supervisors meeting since she issued the mask order May 22, and she’s received some threats from residents because of the order.
“Can you tell us what you’re talking about amongst yourselves,” Wagner said to Quick. “The public does not trust what is coming out of this government and there’s a good reason for that. Not that you’re wrong, but that you have been utterly erratic and failed completely to explain any kind of logic behind that erratic behavior. We just got a glimmer of explanation from Dr. Chau.”
While Quick didn’t say what the health officers were discussing with each other on recent conference calls, she noted that Orange County is seeing a steady increase in virus cases and hospitalizations.
“I think what our numbers are telling us, however, is that we are seeing an increase in community transmission,” Quick said. “Our hospitalization overall is trending up … It is medically necessary for people to cover their face.”
Supervisor Andrew Do also said there needs to be more clear communication from the Health Care Agency.
“I think the public and the board deserves a more detailed explanation,” Do said.
But he disagreed with Wagner’s assessment of Orange County government.
“That is a dead end position to take. What is the reason for us to be here … if we are encouraging people to say they have no trust in what we do,” Do said.
Do then told Chau, “I don’t believe that it’s erratic. We can disagree and we can question, but eventually I hope you will bring clarity to us.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett asked if doctors could provide people with medical certificates stating why they can’t wear a mask.
“Let’s ask them to wear arm bands, that’s worked in the past,” Wagner shot out.
Chau said people shouldn’t have a problem getting medical certificates from their doctors if they have a condition preventing them from wearing a mask.
Quick’s mask order came abruptly just before Memorial Day weekend, just as the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration approved OC’s business reopening plans.
Both Chau and Quick said the masks are needed as people will be out shopping and going to work, creating more public interaction.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said the masks could help prevent businesses from having to close again.
“I support Dr. Quick and what she’s doing and I think the confusion of the order can be clarified somewhat,” Chaffee said. “And it is intended to protect not the wearer, but the rest of the people around you from not getting infected. It’s not something I enjoy doing, I’d rather not, but I see that as a necessary element of getting us fully open.”
Chaffee’s remarks were met by jeers from residents in a separate room, which could be heard through the glass that separates them from the main board meeting room.
Since the mask orders came down, a contingent of residents have protested the masks during public comments at the Supervisors Tuesday meetings.
Despite Quick’s order, few of the commenters – much like county supervisors – don’t wear masks at the weekly public meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
At this week’s meeting, many public commenters and board members pointed to conflicting messaging on masks from the California Department of Public Health.
“There is limited evidence to suggest that use of cloth face coverings by the public during a pandemic could help reduce disease transmission. Their primary role is to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has COVID-19 but feels well,” states the department’s guidelines.
Chau said he is addressing that issue and brought it up during a Saturday conference call with state officials.
“I did point that out,” Chau said. “That inconsistency is really not helpful and I’m asking the state to address that issue.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Digital Editor Sonya Quick and Deputy Digital Editor Caitlin Bartusick contributed to this story. You can reach them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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