Orange County preparing for patient surge, releases inmates early as coronavirus cases continue to climb

A man peers into the Sugar Shack Cafe in downtown Huntington Beach on March 18.
A man peers into the Sugar Shack Cafe in downtown Huntington Beach on March 18. Orange County bars, breweries and wineries were ordered to close, restaurants were told to offer take-out or delivery only, and people were told not to gather to curb transmission of the coronavirus.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Coronavirus infections continue to climb in Orange County — and reached 464 Monday.

Since the start of last week, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county has more than tripled. The cities of Anaheim, Irvine and Newport Beach alone now have 126 confirmed cases among them — one more than the entire county had only a week ago.

Four deaths — two men and two women — have been reported. Three of those individuals were at least 65 years old, and one was between 45 and 64 years old, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

So far, 5,522 people have been tested countywide.

Where have people tested positive for the coronavirus in Orange County? Here’s the latest city-by-city breakdown of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

March 30, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has also reached the county’s jail system.


As of Monday, nine individuals “who are showing symptomology consistent with COVID-19” were being isolated within the jail, according to county Sheriff Don Barnes.

Five inmates have tested positive, and roughly 150 are “being quarantined under observation,” he added.

Over the weekend, 130 people were released from custody early — including 43 who were considered medically at risk, meaning they were at least 65 years old or had preexisting health conditions, according to Barnes.

Overall, Barnes said the county’s jail population has shrunk by 838 inmates since March 1, about a 15% reduction. Much of that is due to natural attrition — fewer people entering the jail to replace those who are released as scheduled.

As the number of cases continues to grow in California, officials at all levels of government are preparing for an anticipated crush of coronavirus patients.

“All hospitals with emergency departments are operational and have canceled all nonessential services and are actively preparing for patient surge,” said David Souleles, the county’s director of public health services.

Officials, he added, are “actively working with the state to site a large regional alternate care site here in Orange County.”


In the city of Costa Mesa — which generated headlines as it fiercely contested a proposal last month to move coronavirus patients to the local Fairview Developmental Center — officials are now singing a different tune, given the anticipated need for tens of thousands of additional hospital beds statewide.

“Much has changed since the Fairview Developmental Center was being considered as a site for COVID-19 patients several weeks ago,” City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison said in a statement Monday. “The federal, state and local governments are now all actively engaged on the COVID-19 response in a coordinated, collaborative effort.”

Given the sharp uptick in cases countywide, she added, “it is imperative that we have the resources to care for those needing medical treatment, including our loved ones. No one is immune from this disease.”

As of Monday, there were 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Costa Mesa, according to county health officials.

Along with Fairview, a state-owned facility that had long housed adults with developmental and behavioral disabilities, Costa Mesa officials said the state is also looking into whether other surplus properties — such as the Orange County fairgrounds — could be used to house coronavirus or other hospital patients.

Such efforts would supplement the recent arrival of the Navy hospital ship Mercy, which docked at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday.


While Orange County’s COVID-19 case growth has been slower in recent days — with 65 cases reported on Sunday and Monday combined, compared with 83 on Saturday — health officials say it’s far too early to draw big-picture conclusions from the data.

“A single day, or even two days, doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot,” said County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick. “So, we want people to continue to follow what our cases are over a period of time.”

She added, “It’s very important for everybody to follow the governor’s, state and local health officer orders to remain at home unless you are leaving for essential business.”

Orange County officials also released tips last week on how to stay mentally resilient in the midst of the public health crisis — urging residents to establish an emotional support system by maintaining daily routines to the extent possible and keeping in touch with family and friends, tapping into reliable sources of information to better understand COVID-19 and taking steps to stem its spread.

“As the spread and far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 dominate the world news, we have all witnessed and experienced the parallel spread of worry, anxiety and uncertainty,” county officials said. “The way to overcome this natural tendency is to build our mental resilience, the ability to refocus, clear our minds and discard negative thoughts.”