With County of Orange officials now publicly releasing more Coronavirus data on infection rates by zip code, the path of the virus’ spread across Orange County is becoming much more clear.
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The new data clearly shows the virus has hit working class communities hardest but it’s also clear that increased county outreach to affected neighborhoods is stemming the tide.
It also illustrates how smaller cities – where more essential workers live – have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in comparison to the region overall, aside from larger cities with similar populations like Santa Ana and Anaheim.
Meanwhile local health workers and city officials are calling on the county to expand its existing pandemic outreach resources to those areas while taking it upon themselves to fill in the current gaps.
The new data from the county now reveals virus testing positivity rates by each of its zip codes, which show it’s not just Santa Ana and Anaheim where those percentages are higher in comparison to the county’s average.
The virus is also affecting zip codes that span areas like west Garden Grove, Buena Park, and parts of south Fullerton.
The county’s overall testing positivity rate, with a 7-day lag, is 4.2%.
But in the 90621 zip code covering Buena Park, for example, the positivity rate is almost double that county average at nearly 8%.
In the 92845 zip code spanning west Garden Grove, the positivity rate is 8.3%.
Meanwhile, positivity rates in zip codes across Anaheim and Santa Ana continue to outpace those of other cities, ranging between 9% and 11%.
Since the county’s recent launch of a targeted outreach program to Anaheim and Santa Ana — two cities that have also launched their own multi-million dollar health response programs — the areas have seen tangible improvements in lowering the positivity rates in those cities’ zip codes, county officials and community health leaders agree.
“Overall we have seen a drop in the positivity rates (for those areas),” said OC Health Care Agency Director and Public Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau at a Sept. 10 news conference. “We are now looking at other areas that have a higher positivity rate overall than the county.”
Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee on Monday partly attributed the improvements to an expansion in testing and access to it: “To facilitate testing in the program areas, we had mobile testing units that rotated areas — so that those people who needed to walk there could do that. That’s really a key.”
Yet it’s now incumbent upon the county to expand the resources they committed to outreach programs in Santa Ana and Anaheim to those other zip codes disproportionately impacted by the virus, according to one community health leader, Latino Health Access Executive Director Dr. America Bracho, whose health care nonprofit has partnered with the County of Orange in targeted areas.
“Now that the data is clear, more than ever, attention needs to be paid to those other zip codes as well, and resources need to be invested in an equity lens – if you are more impacted you need more resources,” Bracho said.
Chaffee agreed: “That was the whole idea of the programs we launched in Anaheim and Santa Ana, they were kind of pilot programs. As we see other hotspots, we need to do the same thing there.”
He emphasized testing needs to be expanded in those other areas, saying what the county did with what officials dubbed the Latino Health Equity Initiative “worked well, so I think that is a good sign to start with, and explain how that worked … To do the same design across other areas, I think … whichever way this has to work, I don’t see a problem.”
Connor Traut, a City Councilman in Buena Park — which according to the new data is among those hard-hit smaller cities — said “Anaheim and Santa Ana are experiencing similar challenges to Buena Park, however with the focus being put on large, hard-hit cities, the smaller hard-hit cities get forgotten.”
Between a large count of senior care facilities in the city “and our highly dense apartment regions, as well as language barriers, we’ve had to get creative in messaging residents directly,” Traut said.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “with the county not providing clear direction that aligns with taking this pandemic incredibly seriously, it makes cities who are harder hit have to act more independently and that does a disservice to the region because the regional approach is the better one.”
Though the county is to some extent embarking on additional outreach efforts outside the Latino Health Equity Initiative already.
Mary Anne Foo, executive director for the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA), said the county has given her group funding to educate Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the county on how to get tested and how to live with the virus if they test positive.
Foo said she and her team have observed successes as a result of the group’s county-funded efforts:
“People are less afraid to get tested – they were originally concerned with, ‘was this going to be held against me? If I get a positive result does that mean?’ The education part really helped people to know it’s better to find out, and that just because you’re negative doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.”
Foo said “it’s helped dispel fears,” adding her group has been able to educate those who have tested positive on how to request time off from work, identify housing options for quarantining, and unemployment.
“Staff at the Health Care Agency helped us – every time we talk to them … the county has been very responsive and wanting to understand more about what those needs are – we feel it’s been a good partnership.”
Though Traut said at the policymaking level, “when it comes to officials at the county level,” it’s created a situation “where cities have had to get more creative and independent in their response.”
“Even though we know our residents better,” he added, “the cities have not historically been tasked with emergency public health response.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.