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Orange County Remains in 2nd Most Restrictive Tier of COVID-19 Reopening Plan

Orange County COVID-19 Statistics

More than 8 million people in the United States have contracted the coronavirus, with the pace of new cases increasing in many parts of the country. But in Orange County officials think that statistics for test positivity rates for the virus and the overall numbers of known cases of COVID-19 are trending in the right direction for more businesses and public facilities to eventually reopen.

Both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm remain closed with the State government declining to issue reopening guidelines for amusement parks, though County officials have met park operators and toured the closed parks to review proposed safety measures. County officials and State representatives, including Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, newly seated as Chair of the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media Committee, are calling for the Governor to allow the parks to reopen in a safe manner.

The County has documented over 57,000 COVID-19 cases since January and 1,391 OC residents are known to have died from COVID-19, 86 of them in Fullerton. 2,682 people have tested positive for the virus in Fullerton, 212 of those cases have occurred in Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs). A disproportionately high number of Fullerton deaths (34) have occurred in SNFs.

Fullerton youth COVID-19 cases by zip code.

Despite the hopes of County officials, all of Orange County remains in the Red or second-most restrictive of the 4 color-coded tiers in California’s framework for the reopening of counties.

Progressing through the tiers allows counties to open more and more businesses and public places. California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy requires that the number of reported COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate of tests for the virus stay below specified levels for each tier for 3 weeks prior to a county being allowed to move to the next less restrictive tier. An additional  requirement, an Equity metric, is used to ensure that “the test positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods, as defined as being in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index census tracts, do not significantly lag behind its overall County test positivity rate,” according to  the California Department of Public Health. Orange County had already targeted 3 ZIP codes—2 in Anaheim, 1 in Santa Ana—that have disproportionately high rates of infection, by forming and implementing the Latino Health Equity Initiative to bring down case rates. The State is now measuring test rates on these census tracts to determine the health equity of each county.

The most recent figures released by the California Department of Public Health show OC’s Health Equity metric at 6.5%. A level no higher than 5.2% is required to move into the less restrictive Orange tier. According to County officials, the adjusted case rate for Orange County peaked at 5.2 out of 100,000 people, but is now down to 4.6, a figure still within the Red Tier range. The County needs to reach a number less than 4 to advance to the Orange Tier. OC’s test positivity rate is 3.5%, below the 5% threshold for moving into the Orange Tier. County CEO Frank Kim said the County is “trending in the right direction” during an October 15 news conference.

Dr. Clayton Chau, Director and County Health Officer for the Orange  County Health Care Agency (OCHCA), believes that OC has an undeserved bad reputation for resisting the wearing of face masks. He reasons that the County’s relatively low COVID-19 numbers are a result of non-medical measures such as  mask-wearing, social distancing, avoiding the mixing of households, and frequent hand-washing by residents. But he warns that COVID-19 transmission is still happening in the overall community and, “We have to accept that.” The County’s 2 testing Supersites had previously been running at 30% to 40% capacity, but in recent days have performed over 900 tests per day.

Orange County AAPI COVID-19 Strike Team

Building on the success of  the County’s Latino Health Equity Initiative, 9 separate Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community-based non-profit organizations that form the Orange County API Taskforce announced the formation of the API COVID-19 Strike Team, a collaboration with the OC Health Care Agency. The API Strike Team will provide mobile testing within 9 targeted OC ZIP codes with higher than average positivity rates, including the heavily Korean American 92833 zip-code in west Fullerton, as well as others in Garden Grove, Buena Park, and Anaheim. The coalition, comprised of organizations representing south Asians, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Pacific Islander, Cambodian, and Asian senior citizens in general, will address barriers to testing and care, and provide navigation for treatment and referrals to related services for Asian-American residents who might not otherwise know where or how to be tested for the coronavirus.

In less than a week, the strike team has already tested more than 700 mostly API residents. Although the program targets Asian and Pacific Islanders, no one is turned away. Their strategy is to reach deeply into ethnic communities where individuals may not speak English well enough to know about how to get tested, or may not be familiar with the general area enough to locate the county’s drive-thru testing Supersites at the Anaheim Convention Center or the Orange County Fairgrounds, or might lack transportation to get there. Mobile pop-up testing will take place between October and December.

OC HCA provided approximately $1 million to OC API for the Strike Team, which the group has used to leverage additional support, such as $100,000 from the California Endowment. Funding is shared with testing provider Kahala Biosciences. The group continues to seek additional outside support for their programs, knowing that the federal government has, so far, failed to reach a deal to fund a second CARES Act.

Korean Community Services and OCAPI Director Ellen Ahn, a Fullerton resident, noted that Orange County is the nation’s third largest API locality. During the press conference, she explained that the API Strike Team testing units are scheduled to appear at religious institutions, groceries stores, city halls, and wherever they can arrange appropriate locations.

A schedule can be found at http://www.apitaskforce.org/covid-19testing. They hope to test essential workers and anyone else who has contact with the public. Director Ahn has worked not only with Dr. Chau at HCA, but has also been in contact with Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer to determine possible pop-up testing sites in the city of Fullerton, possibly in the Richman and Woodcrest neighborhoods.

The API Strike Team grew out of an earlier coalition initiative called LOVE (Loving our Vulnerable and Elderly) formed at the outset of the pandemic to provide food and emergency supplies to older Asian residents during the period of the strict Stay at Home order. Strike Team organizers try not to duplicate the work of the Latino Health Initiative, but have definitely learned from it. One critical difference between the 2 efforts is the number of languages spoken by API residents. Shikha Bhatnager of the South Asian Network listed half a dozen different languages used in her organization’s work alone. No County information had been translated into any of them.

First District Supervisor Andrew Do, speaking at the press conference announcing the formation of the coalition, said that differing access to health care, income, occupation, living conditions, and other social determinants are examples of inequities that can lead to much greater rates of infections. Fourth District Supervisor Doug Chaffee co-sponsored the initiative on behalf of the County.

Roomkey to Toolbelt

Orange County will be transitioning from the Project Roomkey initiative, created to find housing for people experiencing homelessness and/or at high risk of severe illness during the pandemic, to a new program called Project Toolbelt. Seventy-five percent of Roomkey funding was provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and must be spent by the end of the year. Residents currently housed in Roomkey-sponsored hotel rooms and other locations will be referred to alternate housing. The County is partnering with several non-profit support organizations, including Pathways of Hope in north OC.

An earlier version of this story included the specific numbers of vulnerable and/or homeless individuals referred to various forms of housing or treatment by Pathways of Hope in partnership with the Orange County Health Care Agency as part of the program described in the above paragraph. This information was removed from the online version of this story to honor a request by Pathways of Hope Director David Giillanders, who indicated that, according to their agreement with the County HCA, all requests for information about Project Toolbelt should come from that agency’s public information officer.

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10 replies »

  1. Tell that to our nextdoor neighbor who died from SARS-COV19 and leaves two young boys and widow. Or the 10 year old little leaguer that unknowingly brought the virus home that killed his 14 year old sister and mother.

  2. underserved bad reputation? OC has fought state recommendations on safety from the get go. So many meetings held by OC Board of Supervisors publicized on fighting safety measures instilled by the governor. The protests in Huntington Beach. Los Al as one of the first few districts applying for waiver and opened the first school as early as they could. I work in OC and my parents live there. When I went shopping in May/June… there were no social distancing, masking wasn’t required, no limit of how many people go into stores… my workplace is continuing to “force” people to return to work as early as they can… without any disregard to those with valid serious health condition doctor’s note. OC bad reputation is well-deserved.

  3. OC may have a “bad” reputation but what about all the BLM riots in LA? That is far more harmful as far as spreading Covid and yet the governor and democrats seem to be encouraging that behavior. Stop with the hypocrisy already.

  4. nobody cared about the swine flu when that was around which was way worse, because it was before widespread info with 90% or more of population having smart phones, and the internet media is all bought in by news outlets spreading fear porn causing people to give the government what they want which is population control. COngrats America now the governement knows what to do to control everyone, amazing how many people turn their backs to god and church as well. When the bible says only fear me . Yet everyone bathes in sanitizer, sad society.

  5. Everybody should be back to work, back to school, back to life. Protect those who wish to hide under their beds, and old, fat men like me, if we wish to be protected. This virus overwhelmingly hurts certain ages and groups, and society should not be destroyed in order to stop a virus that won’t be stopped–and has a mortality rate of less than 1%!

  6. Seriously wear a freaking mAsk and practice being clean if not for yourself for the sake of other people what’s wrong with Americans today who are so extremely prideful and selfish that they have to complain or try and debate everything when why not do anything possible to protect each other and keep one another safe? Who cares whose more dangerous or what the government is up to all that really matters right now is that unfortunately there is something going around right now that’s extremely harmful to us and even resulting in death so rather than trying to find something to argue about just wear a mask and practice everything possible so we the people can get over this stupid virus and nip it in the butt. Why is it such a big freaking deal to wear a mask or do everything possible to not the spread of this disease? It’s pretty sad that we the people don’t even care enough about eachother that we have to make such a big freaking deal over simply wearing a mask or being cautiously clean.

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