Dozens of OC residents voice frustration over stay-home orders

Nearly 100 Orange County community members expressed their frustration Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors over the latest stay-home orders as the county prepares to receive the first round of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Business owners, teachers and parents spoke at the meeting, voicing their concerns over Gov. Gavin Newsom's regional stay-home orders.

"This whole shutdown has destroyed my business," one woman said.

"My heart breaks for our high school students," said another community member.

"We plow the same field over and over and I still see the misperception in the community'' about the authority of the county when it comes to the state regulations, Supervisor Andrew Do said.

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Do asked Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer and director of the Health Care Agency, to reiterate the county's lack of control over the stay-home orders.

"I am the extension of the California Department of Public Health, so any guidance coming down from the California Department of Public Health I must follow,'' Chau told the board. "I can be stricter in terms of issuing guidance, but I cannot be more relaxed than the state.''

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution requesting more local control over regulating COVID-19 measures.

Supervisor Don Wagner, an outspoken critic of Gov. Gavin Newsom's management of the pandemic, said the county Board of Supervisors cannot ignore orders from Newsom.

But Wagner railed against state officials, who, he said, were "playing us for fools, saying you guys have to follow these rules, and they're making up the rules as they go along.''

Wagner pointed to numerous instances in which Democratic political leaders flouted coronavirus regulations, including Newsom attending a gathering at a restaurant, and said it was evidence that they did not believe the rules were necessary to curb the pandemic.

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"They don't follow the rules, because they don't have faith in the rules as necessary or as helpful,'' Wagner said.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who co-sponsored the resolution with Wagner, said, "Local control is the best way to go.''

Bartlett decried a "heavy-handed, one-sided approach from Sacramento,'' and said counties must get out of a cycle of opening and reopening the economy.

"They can't keep shutting them down again. It's detrimental, it's terrible for the workforce to be hired and fired,'' Bartlett said about closing businesses.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee said he supported the resolution, but wanted to strip the politics out of it.

"I want to make it very clear this resolution is asking for more local autonomy,'' Do said. We are in a bit of a crisis... And the public health threat today in Orange County is the most serious since the beginning of the pandemic... Our ICU availability is down to 13%. We can no longer rest on the laurels. We are no longer unlike other counties... Let's focus and not turn it into a political statement against Sacramento because that will dilute the laser focus we need as a community to fight this pandemic.''

Chau said the only way out for O.C. and the other 10 counties making up Southern California is a hospitalization intensive care unit capacity, as a whole region, of 15% or more after three weeks under the order.

The 11-county Southern California region's available ICU capacity has shrunk to 10.1%.

Once each county reaches the ICU threshold, each will individually land in the tier corresponding with its case rate, positivity rate and health equity metric.

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Exercise outdoors is still OK, according to Dr. Chau, keeping face coverings and physical distancing in mind.

"You can walk your dog, you can go to the beach, you can go to the park, you can go to your golf course, but you do not share the golf cart from people from different household," he said.

Health leaders say they're looking forward to the county's first shipment of vaccines.

Just more than 25,000 shots are expected by Dec. 15 with authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

"Orange County is ready. We have the freezers, we have all the capability," said Chau.

The first round is expected to go to health care workers in ERs, ICUs and respiratory therapy. Vaccines for the general public are expected in the late spring or early summer, Chau said.

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The Orange County Health Care Agency is using an app for what Chau calls the greatest challenge: tracking the shots and their potential side effects.

"We want to make sure that we provide accurate information to our community so they can make the right choice, because as we know, vaccine hesitancy specifically for COVID-19 is quite high all over the country -- not just in our county," Chau said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to rise in Orange County today with 69 more patients since Monday's report for a new record of 946, including 235 in intensive care, just 10 short of a mid-July peak.

The Orange County Health Care Agency also reported 1,671 new diagnoses of the coronavirus, increasing the total to 90,513. With no new fatalities, the death toll remained at 1,633.

The county has 13% of its ICU beds available, down from 18% on Monday, and 53% of its ventilators, the same as the day before. The county added a new metric to its website Tuesday that reflected a new state metric for "adjusted'' ICU bed rate, which stands at 6.7%.

The last time the county's intensive care unit beds were that full was on July 22 when there were 233 patients.

Orange County's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 rose on Tuesday to 30.3, up from 22.2 last week with the positivity rate increasing from 8.8% to 10.6%.

The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose from 13% last week to 16.2% this week.

All of the county's metrics now fall within the state's most-restrictive purple tier of the four-tier coronavirus monitoring system.

The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus rose from 877 Monday to 946, and the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care increased from 218 to 235.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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