Orange County residents used to get weekly public updates from county supervisors and public health officials about the coronavirus trends and what to expect in the coming weeks throughout most of the pandemic.
That ended in December, when cases were skyrocketing and waves of virus patients were hitting hospitals, stretching doctors, nurses and medical staff thin.
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.
The virus killed over 900 people that month alone.
Now, most of OC’s news conferences focus on rolling out new vaccination sites — like at Disneyland in early January or at Christ Cathedral last week.
Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do didn’t respond to questions about the weekly updates.
“Updates are provided during the Board meeting. Also we have held media calls and press conferences periodically and will continue to do so,” County CEO Frank Kim said in a Wednesday text message.
Kim didn’t say why the weekly updates were largely cancelled in December or if there’s any plans to bring them back.
The Board of Supervisors usually meets every other week and the media briefings have been sporadic and aren’t publicly streamed on the internet like the vaccination site news conferences.
The Winter wave was roughly three times worse than the Summer spike — over 2,200 people were hospitalized at one point in January, compared to roughly 720 during July’s peak.
OC’s worst wave stretched from early November to about mid January, when daily new cases and positivity rates slowly began dropping.
Nearly 2,500 were killed by the virus from November to the end of January, according to data from the count Health Care Agency.
That’s more than half of the roughly 4,500 dead, so far.
County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson said the sporadic news conferences will continue to be streamed on Facebook.
“We are utilizing a variety of ways to engage members of the media which include press conferences, media call ins, events as well as responding to inquiries that come in on a daily basis. All press conferences will be streamed on Facebook, as was done last Wednesday at Christ Cathedral,” Nichelson said in a Wednesday text message.
Similarly, Gov. Gavin Newsom used to hold weekly news conferences streamed on the internet, updating Califorinians on virus trends and changes in state guidelines.
Sometimes, there would be multiple public updates in a week.
Those publicly streamed updates stopped nearly two weeks ago after Newsom announced abrupt changes to reopening metrics, essentially allowing counties to reopen faster.
Instead, Newsom’s been on a media tour visiting schools and vaccination sites, but they’re not publicly streamed unless a local TV news station sends a crew to broadcast the news conference online.
“As California ramps up vaccinations and the case positivity and hospitalizations rates drop, the Governor has spent the last number of weeks traveling the state to highlight vaccination sites, economic recovery and school reopening efforts. He holds regular media availabilities with press across the state,” said Newsom’s press secretary Daniel Lopez in a Wednesday email.
Newsom has recently been appearing on cable news channels during primetime to defend himself against the recall efforts.
The governor will likely face a recall election in the coming months after organizers announced they gathered enough signatures to put the question to voters.
“Also, [the California Department of Public Health] issues daily press releases with the information the Governor would normally provide during his daily updates,” Lopez said.
And the Secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, stopped publicly giving weekly updates — streamed on YouTube — over a month ago.
The updates are instead media briefings that aren’t accessible by the public and are seemingly becoming a Friday routine to announce abrupt changes to statewide reopening guidelines — like allowing theme parks to reopen next month or letting counties reopen businesses faster.
Meanwhile, Orange County’s hospitalizations have been slowly decreasing.
As of Wednesday, there were 199 people hospitalized, including 54 in intensive care units.
The virus has now killed 4,511 people, including 25 new deaths reported today.
That’s more than eight times the flu kills on a yearly average.
Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively.
The virus is now in the ballpark of average annual cancer deaths.
According to the 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.
In comparison to Orange County and the state, San Diego County hasn’t stopped publicly updating their residents on a weekly basis.
“So this started as an everyday, people need to know stuff,” said San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman, adding it was gradually reduced to once a week.
Workman said he doesn’t think the updates are enough.
“The reason we do it is to allow access to the press to ask them (county health officials) questions directly and get sound bites from the press conference. Having said that, I would ask myself, ‘Is that enough.’ And my answer — my honest answer — would be no,” Workman said.
San Diego County streams all of their weekly COVID updates on its Facebook page.
Workman said he and San Diego County’s communications department follow the county’s public health officials around everyday to answer questions from the press.
“My experience in emergency situations is, I don’t care what the emergency is, the press people — us — need to be next to the experts. We can’t be in another building waiting for an email returned, we’ll never get an answer,” Workman said. “It is the key to facilitating information”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio
Reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data