Orange County Unprepared for COVID-19 Response, Report Says – fr

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Orange County Unprepared for COVID-19 Response, Report Says – fr


In early 2020, as cases of COVID-19 began to emerge in Southern California, Representative Michelle Steel’s message to her constituents was brimming with optimism that Orange County may be able to avoid a epidemic.
“We will do whatever we can do [to] Keep Orange County free from coronavirus, ”Steel – then chairman of the county watchdog – said in late February. Less than a month later, the county identified its first COVID-19 infection from a community spread. In 15 months, the virus would infect more than 254,000 people and kill more than 5,000 in Orange County alone.

An investigation by the Orange County Grand Jury shows that Steel was not the only one who believed it was possible to stem the rising tide of a pandemic. A report released last week showed county officials for years had largely underestimated the threat of a global pandemic – categorizing it as probable as a disaster at the San Onofre nuclear power plant or an act of terrorism. This mindset resulted in a response that hampered outreach efforts among hard-hit communities and hampered access to tests and vaccines, according to the report.

It’s an issue that has plagued other jurisdictions across California and the United States as COVID-19 infections accelerated and regions struggled to calibrate the difficulty in responding. But Orange County stands out for the distinct role some of its politicians and residents have played in tackling strict restrictions meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Orange County quickly became a link of doubt over COVID-19 in 2020.

When Los Angeles County closed its beaches in an attempt to enforce social distancing guidelines, most beaches in Orange County remained open. When Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the county’s shores to be closed in April after photos showing bathing crowds were released, it sparked a torrent of criticism from elected Conservatives.

When Orange County imposed a mask order in June, crowds of protesters shouted at politicians at county meetings. Anti-vaccination crusader Leigh Dundas made public the personal history and home address of county health worker Nichole Quick at a supervisory board meeting and then showed up at the home of the doctor with a banner depicting Quick as Adolf Hitler. She resigned within days.

Months later, when the state imposed a mandatory 10 p.m. curfew in an attempt to avoid more coronavirus infections, protesters calling themselves the ‘curfew breakers’ converged near the pier of Huntington Beach in an attempt to reclaim their freedom from the Liberals in Sacramento.

The county has 90 days to respond to the grand jury report. Supervisory Board Chairman Andrew Do called the report too broad and said it did not take into account the conditions officials were facing when the virus struck.

“As far as this sounds like a criticism, I disagree with it a bit. Looking back a year later is more than just a Monday morning quarterback, ”Do said. “It is not enough to put in the right context what everyone knew had happened, that is to say that the world lost their reason at that time because we had a thousand concerns. . “

Andrew Noymer, epidemiologist and associate professor of public health at UC Irvine, said it was no surprise that the severity of COVID-19 took people by surprise. The pandemics that have occurred over the past 100 years, including the most recent H1N1 ‘swine flu’ in 2009, pale in comparison to the Spanish flu in 1918 and COVID-19, which killed more than 589,000 people in the world. United States and infected more than 33 million. In California, more than 3.7 million people have been infected and more than 62,000 have died from the disease.

“The fact that the most recent pandemic was such a wet spit really left people off guard [for COVID-19]Noymer said. “It took a lot of air from the ball.”

After Newsom declared a state of emergency, Orange County remained hesitant to fully commit to the restrictions imposed by the state. Despite these constraints being cracked down, fewer people have been infected and died in Orange County compared to Los Angeles County, which was one of the first to adopt COVID-19 regulations.

Compared to Orange County, Los Angeles is much more urbanized and has a larger population of essential workers, whose jobs made it impossible to work from home. More than 1.2 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in LA County, and more than 24,000 have died.

Still, the Orange County Grand Jury has warned that if the issues are not resolved locally now, future pandemics will pose significant challenges. Scientists have warned that more pandemics could be on the horizon.

Noymer agrees that the aftermath of COVID-19 is a great opportunity for governments to take stock of what has been successful as they rolled out their contingency plans and hit speed bumps. Orange County is the first in the region to take this step publicly.

Faced with a response to the coronavirus in early 2020, Orange County officials were caught off guard, according to the report. They underestimated the requirements for communicating with the public and lacked established relationships with community groups in hard-to-reach areas, an issue that challenged the education efforts of residents of hard-hit towns and hampered access to tests and, later, vaccines.

In addition, the 19-member grand jury noted that part of the county’s stockpile of personal protective equipment had expired when the pandemic struck and its durable medical equipment had not been maintained and needed substantial repairs. .

In addition, the Orange County Health Care Agency was understaffed. Faced with shortages, rather than hiring more people, the county opted to borrow employees from other divisions and train them in COVID-19 assistance – a situation that the grand jury said has caused runtime problems and errors.

But Orange County wasn’t the only place in southern California struggling to adjust to the reality of the rapidly spreading virus. A shortage of qualified personnel was a major obstacle for counties in the region, officials said.

In San Bernardino County, officials quickly learned that the demands of the pandemic required more effort than their public health department could handle. They appealed to other county departments, including the library and the public defender’s office, to help them.

“Usually when it comes to enforcing health ordinances there are a few people in the county who do. When all of a sudden you get these state orders to shut down businesses and start a huge testing program, there’s no way the existing staff can do it, ”County spokesman David Wert said. .

Los Angeles County health workers also felt the pressure to maintain a large-scale response for more than a year. For months, staff did not take vacation and some did not have days off. This continues in some departments because the county has a limited number of people who have the level of expertise to handle such a massive response, said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“If there is one positive element that can come from that, I think he recognizes that public health departments need to be better staffed in the first place so that they are really able to respond appropriately when these emergencies arise. produce, ”Ferrer said.

The grand jury also berated Orange County for its inability to quickly translate information about the deadly coronavirus, including testing resources, into languages ​​other than English. While nearly half of the county’s 3.2 million people speak a language other than English, information on testing sites has not been translated for most of 2020, according to the report from the great. jury.

“This limited ability of the Orange County Health Care Agency to communicate effectively with all residents, especially in hot spots in Orange County, is contributing to the spread of COVID-19,” the report says. .

Supervisor Katrina Foley, who was mayor of Costa Mesa when the pandemic began, experienced first-hand a response from the county that she said was simply not helpful. It was difficult to get city-specific information, and it was clear that the Health Care Agency did not have the funding and resources it needed, she said.

“I think there has been a lot of progress in the last two or three months, but it is clear that our health agency was not sufficiently staffed and ready to handle this type of crisis. she said. “We have to do a better job to prepare for the future.

“The federal response to the pandemic was certainly not appropriate, and at first the county response mirrored the federal response,” Foley added. “It delayed our ability to stop people from spreading the virus, and we’ve been catching up ever since.”

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