Cities across Orange County will meet today to consider joining county Sheriff Don Barnes’ challenge to a judge’s order to transfer half the jail population out of group living areas, after the judge concluded Barnes failed to protect those medically vulnerable from coronavirus outbreaks.

The county jail system saw its first coronavirus death on Friday, when a 68-year-old inmate died early that morning.

Cities planning to hold special meetings today to discuss the issue include Los Alamitos, Westminster, Irvine, Dana Point, Mission Viejo, and San Clemente, among others.

On the table for each city council is the possibility of filing a legal brief in support of Barnes’ appeal of Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson’s Dec. 11 ruling, which came in response to a case by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Today’s special meetings come after Newport Beach and Yorba Linda city council members voted on Dec. 18 to file such briefs in support of Barnes’ challenge

Wilson in his 32-page ruling wrote that “[Barnes’] deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm from COVID-19 infection to…medically vulnerable people in [his] custody violates their rights under the California Constitution.”

“[Barnes’] acts, and failures to act, constitute ‘conduct that may unnecessarily expose inmates in his custody to significant risks to their health and safety,” Wilson continued.

Barnes has criticized the order as putting community members at risk.

“If the order stands, it will result in the release of more than 1,800 inmates. Many of these inmates are in pre-trial status for, or have been convicted of, violent crimes and will be released back into the community,” he wrote in a statement at the time. “This order puts our community at substantial risk and does not take into account the impact on the victims of these crimes.”

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases across the county have been skyrocketing, along with hospitalizations.

As of Sunday, 1,682 county residents were hospitalized, including 375 people in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

That’s a record number of hospitalizations.

The county also broke another record when the agency reported 4,606 new cases Sunday.

Although, it doesn’t specify if any of those new cases are from Orange County jails.

Read: Santana: Time For Transparency on Coronavirus Instead of Just Shutting Down

Roughly 12% of all new cases end up in hospitals two to three weeks down the road, according to state public health officials.

Since the pandemic began, 1,775 OC residents have been killed by the virus, including 15 new deaths reported Sunday.

The virus has already killed more than three as many people as the flu does on a yearly average.

For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.

According to those state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.

The county is on track to surpass its average yearly deaths with over 19,000 people dead as of October, the latest available state health data.

It’s a difficult virus for the medical community to tackle because some people don’t show any symptoms, yet can still spread it. Others feel slight symptoms, like fatigue and a mild fever.

Others end up in ICUs for days and weeks before making it out, while other people eventually die from the virus.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and Report for America corps member. Contact him at or on Twitter @photherecord.

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


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