Orange County sees largest jump in COVID-19 cases, public health chief resigns

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Over the weekend, Orange County added more than 300 new COVID-19 cases. That’s the largest increase since the pandemic began. The new record comes as Orange County deals with the bureaucratic impacts of the virus. 

Dr. Nichole Quick resigned last week from her position as the head of the Orange County Health Care Agency. The move follows backlash — including death threats — she faced after requiring all Orange County residents to wear face coverings in public. What does this mean for the future of Orange County’s public health?

KCRW speaks with Gustavo Arellano, host of “Orange County Line.”

KCRW: Have people come to the defense of Dr. Quick, saying she’s just doing her job? 

Gustavo Arellano: “No. … Of course you see stuff online and people calling into talk shows and whatnot. But what happened there at the Board of Supervisors meeting … drew national attention, also drew a lot of disgust from other Orange County residents. There was only one person who spoke in Dr. Quick’s defense. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Quick had her address leaked online, had protests at her home, had death threats. It wasn't a surprise that she ended up resigning, fearing for her own safety. 

… It depends on what part of Orange County you're at. So yeah, in Huntington Beach, a lot of people are not wearing masks. In Santa Ana, where my wife has her store, and Anaheim, where most of my family lives, almost everyone I see out on the street is wearing a mask.”

Who is Dr. Quick’s replacement?

“The Acting County Health Officer is Clayton Chau, who's the agency director for OC Health. So he's temporary. Although who really wants the job right now, if you're going to have to hear a bunch of people calling you treasonous and trying to destroy liberty in Orange County? 

And this is not the first resignation that we've seen at the county health agency. Ever since coronavirus popped up in mid-March, you've seen at least two other high profile people resign, and not really offering anything other than the stress of the job is just getting to them. And by stress, I don't just mean the public. But I also mean a Board of Supervisors that has been openly skeptical about both the strength of coronavirus, of how dangerous it is, and also the idea that wearing masks might be able to stop the spread of coronavirus.”

What is Dr. Clayton Chau’s opinion on the mandating of mask wearing?

“Now the mandate is that you're suggested to be wearing masks if you're out in public and you can't practice social distancing. Again, the Board of Supervisors has said, ‘Well, how do you know that masks do stop the spread of coronavirus?’”

New virus cases are up in recent days, topping 300 over the weekend, the first time that's happened since the pandemic began. Is there any concern that the county isn't doing enough?

“The Board of Supervisors, specifically Don Wagner and Michelle Steel, they really act like coronavirus is no big deal. In late April, Michelle Steel sent out a press release saying that hospitalizations were falling in Orange County due to COVID-19, and Orange County had flattened the curve. 

But in the past about 10 days, you've seen four of the highest case totals, with the most recent one yesterday being the highest ever, 304. Hospitalizations continue to go up. Meanwhile, testing has plummeted. So on top of having the highest total cases for one day yesterday, we've also seen the lowest testing period since the county started tracking them at the end of April with only 719. 

So you end up with the average of about 42% of the tests have come positive.”

Is it just the end of the debate now? This is just the way it's going to be, and we’re going to hope for the best going forward?

“That's what a lot of folks in government in Orange County are saying, ‘Well, you can't live in fear. We just got to go through with it. Wearing masks, it has not proven anything.’

… In the 1918 Spanish flu, the cities that had … a harder mask mandate had less deaths than those who said, ‘We don't need the mask.’ 

So I wish people would listen to history. I wish people would read history. Obviously we're Americans. For us, history is just what's in front of us, and we could manipulate it to our own ends. And if things get broken in the way, well, oh well.”