In OC, safety mandates are still not fully enforced, as hospitals set up extra tents for COVID surge

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Volunteers work on assembling temporary buildings next to the emergency room entrance at University of California, Irvine Medical Center. Hospital officials say the buildings will be used to help ease the strain on their emergency room during the coronavirus pandemic. December 21, 2020. Photo by Robert Hanashiro USA TODAY/Reuters.

Strained hospitals in Orange County are putting up field tents to deal with the surge of COVID-19 patients. There are reports of ambulances waiting in hospital parking lots for an hour before people onboard are allowed in. Meanwhile, many in the county are still arguing over whether people should have to wear a mask in public. KCRW gets an update with regular contributor Gustavo Arellano. 

KCRW: Southern California has been dealing with the fallout from a surge in COVID-19 cases. Are OC officials bracing themselves for this surge upon a surge?

Gustavo Arellano: “The hospitals definitely are. I drive a lot around Orange County, and all the hospitals, they're having tents where I've never seen before. I don't know if it's going to be for triage or something else, but they're trying to extend everything possible. 

On Twitter, a friend of mine who's from Fullerton, he showed how at St. Jude in Fullerton, they're actually building a floor on the parking lot to be able to put more equipment in there. 

So on the hospital level, yes, people know this is real. On the other hand, though, you have politicians who want us all to be gallivanting around Orange County to try to get herd immunity. And of course you have law enforcement who are not enforcing these supposed mandates. For instance, on New Year's Eve, you had people in Newport Beach inside bars, outside bars, packed bars, like nothing at all is existing with regards to coronavirus."

Some officials initially resisted the guidelines around masks. Have they changed their mind maybe after seeing the surge in the last couple of weeks? 

“I'm not seeing it. … I mean, in Santa Ana, there's these signs all over the city telling people in English and Spanish, ‘Please wear a mask. Please maintain social distancing. Please take care of yourselves.’ City officials know that coronavirus is real because their city is being impacted far further. 

On the other hand, you have a place like Huntington Beach where you have a new newly elected council member, Tito Ortiz, not wearing a mask inside City Hall during City Council meetings, even though the policy for the workers of Huntington Beach inside the city offices is to wear a mask. 

There's so much mixed messaging, at least in the totality of Orange County. It's not surprising then that some people really do think coronavirus shouldn't be paid any attention to.”

Council Member Tito Ortiz is against mask mandates. He's referred to the pandemic as the “plandemic,” referencing the theory that it's an excuse for officials to control residents. He went to a Christmas meal donation event without wearing a mask, right? 

“Not only that, it was at … Oakview Elementary School, where one of the trustees … went to him and said, ‘Look, it is school district policy to be wearing a mask. Please wear a mask.’ He refused to do that, so she basically barred him from the schools. 

But this is during a Christmas toy drive. This is during giving out food, like this is supposed to be the holiday spirit. … Tito, he has told the Orange County Register that the only people he knows who have gotten coronavirus, the mask brought their foul air back into their system, and that's how they got sick.”

What message has the mayor in Huntington Beach, Kim Carr, been sending? 

“She's trying to be the peacemaker here. In other words, saying, ‘Yes, you should wear a mask. But I guess if you don't want to wear a mask, well, that's your constitutional right.’ 

What this whole pandemic has shown is that you need leadership to tell people, ‘No you have to wear a mask, this is serious.’ And that's one thing I would say across California but especially in Orange County. You don't see enough people just flat out calling folks, ‘Hey, if you don't wear a mask, you're dumb. If you don't wear a mask, you're selfish, and if you think coronavirus is not real, then you are guilty of spreading it and putting us into this morass that we're all in right now.’ 

But of course no one wants to say that because the last thing they want is a bunch of protesters outside their house, which has happened in Orange County, or getting your address released publicly so that more people go harass you.”

Why do you think Huntington Beach is the way it is, so ‘buck the system?’ 

“It's always been conservative, but it hasn't been this whack job conservative, except in the past maybe seven years. And it's too complicated of a story to tell. ... But you have folks who think they're libertarians [who] are actually super rock red Republicans. And more importantly, they do not like any hint of weakness. This is the bro capital of the United States, and the last thing bros want to be seen as is weak. And if you wear a mask, that means that something might infect you, which means that you're actually human, which means that you're not immortal.”

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