O.C. resignation of health official after controversy over coronaviruses

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The chief health officer of Orange County resigned Monday after several intense weeks of defending his facial mask across the county in response to the coronavirus pandemic.The mask order, which requires people to wear face covers in public, faced immediate resistance after Dr. Nichole Quick mandated him in late May. Some residents and elected officials questioned the need for widespread use of face covers when businesses in the region reopened. This anger was sometimes directly directed at Quick.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department provided safety information to Quick after she received what officials believed to be a death threat at a county council of supervisors meeting last month.

During the meeting, a woman who identified herself as a lawyer disparaged Quick’s medical experience and read her home address aloud, saying that she planned to take a group to Quick and to “do calisthenics with masks on the doorstep” in an attempt to prove that face covers are not safe.

The woman echoed what other critics had said about face covers that posed a danger to people’s oxygen levels. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already stated that children under the age of 2 and anyone with a breathing problem should not wear a face covering.

“When people start to fall like flies, and they will,” said the woman at the meeting, “I will ask every first responder within 30 miles to turn lights and sirens on.” at his front door, and you better pray they can revive the one who fell because if they can’t… I will ask the CO Office of DA to accuse him of murder. ”

Later in the week, Orange County Supervisory Council Chair Michelle Steel condemned the threat, saying, “It should never happen again.”

“No one deserves to be threatened or intimidated as they were,” said Steel at the time.

At another meeting of the Board of Supervisors, some members of the public brought a poster with a picture of Quick on it, a Hitlerian mustache on the face and swastikas.

Quick, who was hired as county health official last June, could not be reached on Tuesday morning. The Board of Supervisors has appointed Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, as the county’s new health worker.

The county agreed to pay Quick $ 75,000 in compensation for its decision to resign voluntarily, according to a settlement and release agreement signed Monday.

The agreement says county executive officer Frank Kim will not denigrate Quick’s work while employed in the county. In return, Quick agreed not to criticize the county or the board of supervisors, the document said.

Kim called the deal Tuesday “fairly common in the county” for executive-level employees.

“I had a very good working relationship and I thought she was doing a very good job for the county as a health officer,” he said in a phone call to reporters.

He added that he was surprised and disappointed with Quick’s resignation, but declined to explain his reasons for doing so, other than saying, “I think all the challenges of the job weighed on his decision. ”

“It is not an easy task,” he said, adding, “It is not uncommon for public officials to work 80 weeks a week. ”

Quick is the third senior healthcare executive to leave the county in the middle of the pandemic. David Souleles retired in April from his post as deputy director of the public health agency. A few weeks earlier, Richard Sanchez left his post as director of the county health agency for a position with CalOptima, a county-sponsored health insurance system.

At a board meeting last week, supervisor Don Wagner, who has been a strong advocate for the reopening of businesses and public services in the county, questioned the need to cover his face, claiming that other parts of the state retreated from these orders.

Several surrounding counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, require residents to wear masks in public places.

Quick responded that face covers could help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. She also noted that the county is seeing an increase in community transmission of the virus and that the number of hospitalizations has tended to increase.

“There is evidence to support it,” she said, “and I firmly believe that we need a face warrant as we continue to refer more people to social interactions. ”

Wagner noted on Tuesday that many of his constituents are considering wearing a mask as a restriction, and said his frustration came from a lack of transparency on the issue.

“We have developed guidelines for reopening businesses that the board had over a month ago. Dr. Quick participated in all of these conversations and never said, “Oh, but I think we will need masks,” he said. “And then, suddenly, we get masks without any warning and without any explanation. This is not the kind of transparency that I would like to see from the government. ”

Wagner and Kim condemned the threats against Quick. Kim said other county staff have also received threats and that these matters are being investigated by law enforcement.

“No staff member deserves this type of treatment,” he said. “We are in these jobs to provide a public benefit and, although we respect the rights of individuals to disagree or express their opinion, I think going beyond that to issue threats is really inappropriate and I hope these things will not continue. ”

The county reported 93 additional cases of coronavirus infection on Tuesday, bringing the number to 7,614. County officials also reported eight additional deaths, for a total of 185 deaths.

Orange County saw its largest two-day increase in the number of cases reported on Friday and Saturday, according to data provided by the county.

Nearly 300 new cases were reported on Friday, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic, while 271 new cases were reported on Saturday. This comes amid an increase in testing across the county.

The number of hospitalizations in the county is also on the rise. On Sunday – the most recent data available – the county had 304 people hospitalized for the virus, a new daily record. The data showed that 146 of them were in intensive care units, also a new daily record for the county.

The supervisory authority council urged Chau on Tuesday to get a definitive answer on when he planned to lift the county mask order. Members of the public could be heard screaming in the background as Chau answered questions from the board of directors.

“We cannot impose restrictions on people on the basis of fear, only on the basis of theoretical fear,” said supervisor Andrew Do. “If we open up and have tests and start to see changes, I understand the change in position. We shoot a moving target. I’m not asking you to be reckless, but the decision-making process for me is flawed. ”

The effort comes as the county prepares to reopen other sectors of the economy starting Friday, including cinemas, public pools, museums, zoos, schools, day camps, wineries and bars.

Chau said he plans to examine the county’s infection rate and hospitalization figures over the next 21 days with more public spaces open to determine if these figures show that it was safe to change the ‘order of masks.

“We have to watch and see how we do when we enter this ecosystem before we make any decision to downgrade the mask order,” said Chau.

Kim said the county plans to launch a recruiting effort to find Quick’s long-term replacement. He recognized that the position presents challenges, but said that it is also “an incredible opportunity for a qualified doctor who wants to make a difference, help his community and be at the forefront in developing all strategies. that will reduce the disease. burden and save lives in Orange County. ”

When asked how he could reassure potential candidates that their advice would be taken to heart – given not only the heated dispute over the order of the mask, but the fact that County Sheriff Don Barnes has publicly stated that his ministry wouldn’t apply it – Kim said, “You have to communicate and you have to justify. And if you communicate and justify yourself, I think we’ll get through all of the possibly uncomfortable discussions that can take place. ”

“I don’t want to decrease the difficulty of the job and the uncomfortable situation that our new health worker will face,” he said. “All of this is real. It happens every day. ”

The City News Service contributed to this report.

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