Orange County Supervisors have yet to publicly acknowledge their county health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau’s, push to address chronic health conditions in poor neighborhoods, and instead continue to fight against the state’s business reopening system.
Editor’s Note: As Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom, Voice of OC brings you the best, most comprehensive local Coronavirus news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. We need your help. Please, make a tax-deductible donation today to support your local news.
Chau, also the director of the OC Health Care Agency, announced the creation of a new agency position to work with nonprofits and community organizations to get into neighborhoods that are hit the hardest by the virus.
He also said the efforts won’t stop at the coronavirus, and will instead be used to address common health issues plaguing the poorest neighborhoods like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
“The pandemic truly brings and pushes the issue of health equity to the forefront and these issues existed way before the pandemic,” Chau said at a news conference last Thursday. “Not only in Orange County, but all over our state and country.”
Yet not one county Supervisor mentioned the community health effort or asked Chau about it at Tuesday’s coronavirus update during their most recent regular public meeting.
Instead, Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel fought back against the four-tiered reopening system and wants some type of credit from state public health officials for empty hospital beds so OC can reopen more businesses.
And last month, county Supervisors fought back against the state requirement that counties lower positivity rates in the hardest hit areas before moving into the next tier on the state’s business reopening system — known as the health equity metric.
Orange County, along with the rest of California, has been seeing virus cases increase for the past couple of weeks.
Because of the case bumps, the county will stay in the Red Tier on the state’s four-tiered virus reopening guidelines until it can bring down the metrics Supervisors have railed against. Malls, beauty salons, movie theaters, restaurants, places of worship and retailers can operate indoor activities, but have to limit the number of people inside.
Meanwhile, Latino Health Access CEO America Bracho, said county Supervisors need to get involved if Chau’s community health plan is to get off the ground.
“You have community inclusion, hopefully the next steps will be to produce a report in real time and you need to fund it and make things happen. We don’t just want it to go nowhere,” Bracho said in a Monday phone interview.
She said Supervisors, cities and community organizations need to get on the same page and study what’s impacting each neighborhood so they can target resources.
“This cannot be, any longer, a situation in which each city or each foundation or the Board of Supervisors has their own agenda or idea on how to use the money. We need to start using collective outcomes, where equity is at the center,” Bracho said.
Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit, partnered with the county Health Care Agency in June to address the then-skyrocketing rates of virus infections in the poorest neighborhoods of Anaheim and Santa Ana.
The efforts have brought down positivity rates in those areas from as high as 20% to single digit numbers.
“We know that we are seeing a decrease in the neighborhoods in Anaheim and Santa Ana — more than 70 percent decrease in comparison to the beginning. Still, we are very focused and we are not given this virus a break.”
Bracho’s also working with a host of Asian American and Pacific Islander community groups to help bring positivity rates down in areas across the county, like pockets in Garden Grove.
“If they find Spanish-speaking Latinos that need help, they refer them to us and we are doing the same for them,” Bracho said. “We will be working with partners.”
Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has killed 1,491 people out of 60,841 confirmed OC cases, 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. Of that number, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, over 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 OC residents annually.
As of Wednesday, 182 people were hospitalized, including 78 intensive care units — the highest number of people in ICU’s since early September, when the county was coming out of the summer case and hospitalization spikes.
State public health officials aren’t budging on the metrics OC Supervisors are protesting.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of state’s Health and Human Services Agency, said the health equity metric is a key to keeping virus cases from spiking.
“I would be remiss to deviate from that in any material way,” Ghaly said in a Wednesday news conference.
He said if the virus spread is left unchecked in the state’s poorest communities, it would eventually begin raising rates across the board.
“So we believe that the way the health equity measure is applied today is the right way at the moment. But of course as we’ve always done is take feedback from our local partners.”
Ghaly also said hospitalization numbers aren’t a good way to measure a county’s virus situation because a bump in cases means hospital numbers increase a few weeks down the road.
“We deliberately chose not to have a hospital measure because, as we said earlier, it’s a lagging indicator,” Ghaly said. “We feel confident — especially as we see other states quickly and somewhat dramatically get overwhelmed in their health care system — that we made the right choice.”
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