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Orange County coronavirus cases likely up to 5, health agency says

An electron microscope image shows the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
An electron microscope image shows the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
(Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

A fifth person in Orange County has tested positive for novel coronavirus, the county Health Care Agency director, Richard Sanchez, told the Board of Supervisors in an update Tuesday.

Two of the five cases are confirmed, while three are “presumptive,” meaning officials are awaiting confirmation from federal authorities of local test results.

Four of the people contracted the virus through travel-related activities, and one got sick from person-to-person contact with someone who was ill, according to the health agency.

Of the five cases, four are men, three are ages 18 to 49, one is 50 to 64 and the other is older than 65, the agency said.

The number includes a man who contracted the virus earlier this year and has recovered.

UCI announced late Tuesday afternoon that a person had been tested for COVID-19 at the Student Health Center. The campus is not closing, though it is taking several precautionary measures amid coronavirus concerns, the school said.

Supervisor Don Wagner had questions about how concerned people should be about the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

“I’m trying to put the real risk to some perspective,” Wagner said.

“I’m hearing from chambers of commerce in my district that businesses are cutting back on travel to Orange County. We’re seeing tourism down. We’re seeing conventions get canceled, and I guess my question is, from a public health standpoint, is that an appropriate response?”

Dr. Nichole Quick, the county’s chief health officer, replied that “the flu is a much greater risk than coronavirus. Now, that being said, part of people’s fear related to this is we simply don’t know what this is going to look like. We don’t have wide enough testing to know how many people are infected across the country.”

Quick added that it is important to “empower” the public with information on how they can lessen the risk by following routine precautions such as washing hands regularly, covering their mouth when sneezing or coughing and staying home when sick.

Most coronavirus cases are mild, with older adults and people with existing health problems most at risk of serious effects.

Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure and may include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.

Supervisor Andrew Do pointed out that “government agencies at federal and state levels are asking employees to be ready to work offsite. ... When you have government agencies preparing to respond in that way, how can the public get any kind of confidence in terms of when to go with one extreme of quarantine and the other extreme of we just have five total cases?”

Quick said the “overall risk to residents of Orange County is low.”

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said her sister lives in Westchester County, N.Y., which she said has about 20 reported cases.

“It started with one person not feeling well who asked a neighbor to bring him to the doctor. ... He infected his whole family, his friend infected his whole family ... so we need to be very, very cautious because this can spread very, very quickly,” Bartlett said.

John Wayne Airport response

John Wayne Airport Director Barry Rondinella told the supervisors that cleaning and sterilization has increased at the airport by about 25% in response to the coronavirus.

The airport also has more hand sanitizers and has boosted advertising to passengers to promote common safety tips, he said.

OCTA response

The Orange County Transportation Authority, which runs the countywide bus system, said in a statement Monday that it has formed a Coronavirus Action Task Force that is direct contact with the Orange County Health Care Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

OCTA also said it has increased the frequency of its bus cleaning and is applying an enhanced anti-viral disinfectant, giving extra attention to surfaces that are touched most frequently.

‘Virtual town hall’ Thursday

Health Care Agency officials will hold a “virtual town hall” from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday. Residents can join in by calling (855) 756-7520, ext. 56750#.

The event will be able to accommodate 10,000 callers and will be live-streamed and archived on the county’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

For more information, email ceocom@ocgov.com.

Daily Pilot staff contributed to this report.

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