‘Viruses don't pay attention to economies or people's wishes.’ Gustavo Arellano on OC’s COVID surge

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On Monday, 20,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 in California, shattering a one-day record during this pandemic. Orange County also set a record on Monday with the most reported coronavirus cases it’s ever seen in a single day. Heading into Thanksgiving this Thursday, the virus is showing no signs of slowing down. 

KCRW checks in with regular contributor Gustavo Arellano. 

 KCRW: What was the number of cases in Orange County on November 23? 

Gustavo Arellano: “1422 — [it] beats the old record for one day of coronavirus cases by over 100. In the past week alone, you've had two days with coronavirus cases over 1,000. We have not seen that since the first huge wave that happened over the summer.” 

Why are we seeing such a surge and happening so fast in OC?

“Just like the rest of California, if not the rest of the United States, people really think coronavirus is over. Or they have coronavirus fatigue, so they're hanging out with large groups of people that they shouldn't be hanging out with, and they're not wearing masks on top of that. And here in Orange County especially, it's almost endemic.

… We pick a lot, of course, on Huntington Beach. It’s the type of city where coronavirus truthers get elected to Congress and also the City Council. But even my hometown of Anaheim, over the weekend, I was somewhere in Anaheim, let's put it that way, and I heard at least three separate parties in Latino households. And I knew there were Latino households because they were playing mariachi and banda and norteño. They seemed to be very happy, and I seriously doubt anyone was wearing masks or practicing social distancing there.”

Are public health officials issuing new safety policies?

“The most recent one happened this past week, where the county health agency said restaurants can no longer have diners indoors. And I know this because of course my wife runs a restaurant. You still have outdoor dining, and you're not going to see the same restrictions at least so far. Nor do I think it'll happen like what's going to happen in LA County, where all outdoor dining is supposed to stop tomorrow, on Wednesday.”

LA County is suspending outdoor dining Wednesday night just in time for Thanksgiving. You don't think OC will follow suit? 

“No, look, Orange County’s going to push as much against the coronavirus limit as possible. Remember, this is a Board of Supervisors that earlier in the year didn't stand by the former health care officer who was getting death threats from people and getting doxxed online. The current one, Clayton Chau, he's trying his best, but he doesn't seem to be as anti-coronavirus as the previous person, Nichole Quick. The Board of Supervisors, they really want coronavirus to be over, but viruses don't pay attention to economies or people's wishes.”

This virus is particularly bad in some of the poorest neighborhoods. 

“Oh, yeah, it's really sad. My hometown of Anaheim, and Santa Ana where my wife has her store … they account for about 40% of all coronavirus cases and deaths. … They also happen to be some of the most Latino cities, or at least immigrant heavy cities, and also poorest cities in Orange County. 

… I know this is why the rest of Orange County doesn't seem to care about coronavirus or thinks it's not real — because it's not affecting them. For instance, it's not affecting Mission Viejo as much as it's affecting all the neighborhoods off Bristol in Santa Ana. So why should someone in Mission Viejo care about what's happening in Santa Ana? That to me just shows the eternal disconnect between working class Orange County and the rest of Orange County.” 

Your recent column calls Huntington Beach “Angrytown, USA.” I understand people have COVID concerns and fatigue, but people are really mad in spite of science.

“I did write a column for the LA Times about just how it's become this epicenter of rage this year between hating coronavirus and lockdowns. But at least Huntington Beach is not San Clemente. Over the weekend, there was actually a bonfire where people were throwing their masks in the bonfire. You think, oh my lord, these are our neighbors, and they're so a-scientific and ahistorical. May God bless them. And more importantly, may God protect us from these loons.”