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Orange County Supervisors will keep the coronavirus state of emergency and continue moving forward with a digital service that provides proof of vaccination that some businesses will require.
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During Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting, Supervisor Don Wagner wondered if it’s time to start thinking about lifting the state of emergency declaration because case rates, positivity rates and hospitalizations have been low for a while.
“If you had approached us with these numbers a year ago, would you say we’re in an emergency?” Wagner asked County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau.
“The answer would be, from a public health perspective, yes. As long as you have a virus that’s easily transmittable, you still have to be on guard for that,” Chau responded.
But, Wagner said, they don’t call an emergency for flu season.
“We always had the flu and it always kills people in Orange County. But we don’t declare a state of emergency,” he said.
The flu kills an average of 543 people in OC a year, according to state data.
Nearly 5,000 residents have been killed by the coronavirus, so far.
Chau warned letting the virus spread unchecked leads to more mutations, which could be more transmittable and deadly.
Wagner questioned the emergency after a wave of residents showed up Tuesday to protest the emergency declaration, vaccines and masks. They also railed against what they claim are forced vaccine passports, similar to arguments from a couple weeks ago.
Some of Wagner’s colleagues said the county will lose critical funding if the emergency declaration is prematurely lifted.
“We would also potentially jeopardize some of our normal pots,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. “It’s not just the additional dollars that are flowing from the state and federal level … I think we just need to proceed with caution and not do anything that’s going to jeopardize the dollars we receive on a local basis.”
Wagner summed up a scenario if he and his colleagues lifted the local emergency declaration:
“If we were to eliminate the emergency orders, nothing would change in Orange County other than maybe we wouldn’t have some of the money we’re using to help the people who’ve been hurt by the lockdown.”
Chau also told Supervisors he has to follow guidance from the California Department of Public Health, like masks and occupancy restrictions, regardless of an emergency declaration.
Officials at Tuesday’s public supervisors meeting also repeatedly said they are not going to mandate so-called vaccine passports.
County health officials are looking into a QR code for people’s phones that would serve as proof of vaccinations some businesses — like concert halls and sports stadiums — would require if they wanted to increase the number of people inside.
Many residents railed against the vaccine verification program and claimed it was being forced on them.
Similar comments were made at the supervisors meeting a couple weeks ago, including comparisons to the Holocaust that drew the ire of Jewish community leaders.
“It’s about individual choice or they could do nothing. We’re not making anything mandatory,” Bartlett said. “As I understand when the QR code is scanned, all it says is the person’s name and the fact that they have been vaccinated or a valid date. Is that correct?”
“Yes ma’am,” Chau responded.
Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said people need some type of vaccination record as the economy reopens.
“If those businesses require the vaccination verification, that’s their choice, correct?” Do asked.
Chau responded, “That’s correct.”
Meanwhile, the vaccination supersite at Disneyland is slated to close this Friday as the theme park reopened after being closed for over a year due to the pandemic, according to a Monday news release from the county Health Care Agency.
Because of the super site closure, Families Together of Orange County will be hosting another weekly vaccination clinic in Orange.
“It’s so important to us that we live true to our mission as an organization by making vaccines as accessible as possible to everyone in our community. Whether it’s in our Tustin or Garden Grove locations, or by sending out our mobile units, everyone deserves a chance to receive these life-saving vaccines,” said Families Together CEO Alexander Rossel in a Tuesday news release.
State officials are expected to lift all coronavirus restrictions, except masks, by June 15 if hospitalizations remain low and enough people in the state are vaccinated.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said the mobile clinics, like Families Together, are going to be critical in the coming weeks.
“I’m finding people are not necessarily hesitant to [to the vaccine], they don’t have access,” Chaffee said. “So I think the access that we’re providing by the mobile pods is terrified and would go a long way addressing the hesitancy.”
The clinics have been critical in getting shots to the county’s hardest hit residents.
Supervisor Katrina Foley questioned why hours at vaccine supersites aren’t being extended.
“What I’m finding in my district is that while the mobile pods are very effective, we cannot vaccinate enough people in enough volume at the mobile pods,” Foley said. “So, I guess I’m struggling to understand why we are not ramping up the fairgrounds.”
Chau said there’s ongoing supply issues, coupled with a federal hold on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that’s expected to lift soon.
“We don’t have enough vaccines to ramp up any place,” Chau said. “In fact, all the super pods are below capacity.”
Chau also wouldn’t say if OC would meet the June 15 deadline or not.
“I am hopeful. I’m a bit nervous to say we will achieve that by June 15,” he said, adding that vaccines coming into the Golden State will remain “low for the next two or three weeks.”
Orange County’s virus hospitalizations have been holding steady.
As of Tuesday, 128 people were hospitalized, including 27 in intensive care units.
The virus has now killed 4,939 people — nine times more than the flu kills on an average yearly basis.
COVID deaths surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC.
It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively.
Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest state health data.
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.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio