Orange County residents will have to wait up to three weeks before they find out if cloth face masks will still be required in public as the County begins to reopen bars and movie theaters this Friday. 

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County Supervisors continue debating a controversial mask order as a series of scheduled Friday reopenings draw near. 

On Monday, Public Health Officer Nicole Quick abruptly resigned after weeks of pressure from county supervisors to relax or rescind her mask order. Quick refused and ultimately quit. 

On Tuesday, County Health Care Agency Director, Dr. Clayton Chau, who was appointed acting Health Officer, underscored what Quick told supervisors saying  health care agency officials needed to study virus trends for about three weeks to determine if there’s a spike in cases or not. 

That is what would drive relaxation of the mask order, said Chau, who was repeatedly grilled with questions on Tuesday at the public dais by county supervisors.

Supervisor Don Wagner, who’s become a leading voice in the fight against the masks, questioned what benchmarks Chau and Health Care staff are looking at. 

“What’s the data you want to see?” Wagner asks. 

Chau responded, “We’re going to look at our number of individuals who test positive … if we open businesses, again on the 12th, it will bring in more people in the community … you’re going to follow the data through that time. At this time I’m not willing to commit a time, but we can look at 14-21 day after that opens … to see if our positivity rate remains stable.” 

Later in the discussion, Wagner said the mask order could be extended by default since state health officials are allowing businesses to reopen in incremental waves. 

“It’s just a rolling 21-day period. I’m looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m seeing you extending the tunnel,” Wagner said. 

Chau responded, “It’s pretty much all stage three. So I think the remaining — concerts and all that — I don’t think it will happen any time soon. So I think we can comfortably say that when we go through the opening of stage three … we would see the effect we have on the community.” 

Supervisor Michelle Steel, who’s also been a vocal critic of the mask order, also challenged about Chau about his decision to stand by the mask order.

“Our positive rate, it’s actually going down,” Steel said. 

Chau said the goal is to keep the positivity rate below eight percent, which is the threshold set by the state. If the OC’s rate goes over that, state health officials could shut down OC businesses again until the case spike subsides. 

The County’s positivity rate is 4.3 percent, according to the California Department of Public Health website.  

Yet hospitalization rates are growing at a steady pace, noted County CEO Frank Kim.

Across Orange County, the virus has now killed 185 people out of 7,614 confirmed cases. There were also 304 people hospitalized, including 146 in intensive care units. Nearly 3,400 people have recovered and almost 165,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. 

Kim told Supervisors that officials are seeing the impact of the reopening of dine-in restaurants and shopping centers in the daily virus number reports. 

“As we reopen the risk of infection grows, so we would expect to see a slight trend,” Kim said. “In fact, we’re seeing that today … now we’re trending regularly in the high 200, low 300 range” for hospitalizations. 

Kim said the hospital capacity is still there throughout OC and said it’s a balancing act. If the balance gets out of whack, the state could shut down the reopenings, Kim warned. 

Supervisor Andrew Do criticized Chau and the Health Care Agency for not being transparent enough on the process leading to the mask order. 

“We respect your medical expertise and we don’t want to put ourselves in the position of trying to play doctor. But part of your decision making process has to be accountable to the public and to the governing body,” Do said. 

“That’s fair that we have to understand where you come from … having said that, the fact that we have this many questions up here as to your decision-making process should tell you that it’s not transparent — that we cannot track you,” Do said. 

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

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