An Orange County college has now seen a coronavirus outbreak, but county public health officials won’t say which college or university it is, yet.
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“One college had 3 or more cases within a 2 week period of time,” said county Health Care Agency Medical Director Dr. David Nunez.
Agency officials are mulling over naming the college.
“An internal discussion is in process and we have not reached a determination at this time,” said agency spokesman Ed Mertz in a Friday email.
In comparison, Los Angeles County lists all outbreaks at businesses and schools throughout the county.
Nunez also said there hasn’t been an outbreak at elementary schools that have reopened classrooms under the state’s waiver process.
Meanwhile, all Orange County schools could have the ability to reopen classrooms in a couple weeks, but it’s unclear who’s overseeing enforcement of the state coronavirus guidelines.
“If we have a school that has [an] outbreak, that needs to be closed, we will inform the public on that. So definitely. You’ve seen that we have a website where we approved all the elementary K-6 waiver for most of the schools, mostly the private and charter as well as secular schools in Orange County. And that will be the website format that we will be posting schools that get closed,” OC health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said at a Thursday news conference.
The county moved into Tier Two on the state’s reopening criteria Tuesday, which allows for churches, gyms, movie theaters, restaurants and museums to reopen at limited capacity.
It also allows for schools to reopen beginning Sept. 22 if virus trends continue to hold.
Chau said there’s a team of public health experts that will help schools reopen.
“Our group of public health nurses and we have also signed a contract with CHOC hospital and UCI … to be on standby. We started it already, so if any school has any questions, any issue related to COVID 19, they can call the school response team,” Chau said.
Yet it’s unclear how enforcement of the guidelines — which mandate masks and other safety measures — will work.
Chau said he has weekly phone calls with school officials as one of the ways the county was working to help schools manage classroom reopenings, but at a press conference last Thursday one of Chau’s subordinates made clear those calls were not intended as enforcement of the state’s virus guidelines.
“From the agency level, we’re just here for support. It is probably incumbent upon the schools to be able to adhere to that,” said Dr. Margaret Bredehoff, Director of the Health Care Agency’s Public Health Services Team when asked by Voice of OC reporters how the county would be ensuring schools implemented required safety measures.
“That’s about the extent of our enforcement.”
It also remains unclear in many school districts where students and staff can be tested, or if they will be required to take a test at all. Many districts don’t even mention testing in their return plans published online, and those that do only “recommend,” testing if showing symptoms or if exposed to a confirmed case.
Chau also said the county would be publishing what schools are shut down due to outbreaks, but it is still unclear if the number of students affected will be shown explicitly in the data or included with the general population in daily updates.
Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has killed 1,081 OC residents out of 50,613 confirmed cases, with 12 new deaths reported Friday, according to the county Health Care Agency.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 OC residents annually.
Anaheim and Santa Ana, while making up roughly 21 percent of OC’s population, have 36 percent of the total cases and 45 percent of deaths. Although case rates have dropped in the two cities, many neighborhoods are still double, if not more, the county’s 4.2 percent positivity rate.
Public school officials in those cities have indicated they’re not going to be reopening classrooms anytime soon.
State officials on Thursday said they’re going to target more testing and other resources to address the virus disparities seen in places like Anaheim and Santa Ana.
Hospitalizations continue to hold steady, with 223 hospitalized from the virus, including 65 in intensive care units. The numbers have eased since peak levels in July, following a sudden case spike following restaurant and bar reopenings beginning Memorial Day weekend.
Deaths have continued to increase.
UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer previously told Voice of OC the county could see 2,000 deaths by the end of the year.
Nearly 724,000 tests have been conducted throughout the county, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story.