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Orange County public health leader stepping down amid COVID-19 pandemic

Orange County deputy director of public health services David Souleles, seen at the April 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, has worked for the county for 16 years. He will retire May 1.
(Screengrab / Orange County)

One of the most public faces of the Orange County Health Care Agency is stepping down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy director of public health services David Souleles will retire May 1, the county announced Thursday.

Souleles, who has worked for OC public health for 16 years, has been one of the most forward-facing leaders from the department during the pandemic along with county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick. He frequently gives updates to the Board of Supervisors and this week he unveiled a wider network of public clinics to test for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Souleles’ departure comes about a month after top agency director Richard Sanchez stepped down to become the interim chief executive at CalOptima, which provides coverage and programs for low-income earners and people with disabilities.

County CEO Frank Kim said he was saddened to see Souleles go but he was confident that other agency staffers will be able to effectively manage the county’s response to the current health crisis.

“While we will all miss having David work with us and the dedication and his expertise, at the health care agency we are 2,700 employees strong and we have an incredible bench filled with our operational managers and other executives that I know and am very confident will be able to provide support during this time of transition,” Kim said at a Thursday news conference.

On Monday, Souleles informed Kim and the Health Care Agency’s interim director, Bob Wilson, that he is retiring.

“I am proud of the accomplishments of public health over the past 16 years I have been here, and know that the staff in Public Health Services will continue to do good work moving forward,” Souleles wrote in a letter addressed to Wilson.

Lilly Simmering, the health agency’s assistant director, will step into Souleles’ role while the county seeks a permanent replacement. On Monday, the county should announce Sanchez’s replacement, Kim said.

In daily virus updates, the county reported nearly 80 more cases and two more deaths Thursday. Cases now sit at 1,827 total infections and 36 deaths. The Health Care Agency also said 158 people were hospitalized with the virus Thursday, 59 of them in intensive care.

Among the 36 people who have now died, 21 were older than 65, the age group considered to be most at risk.

Here are the latest case counts for select cities, with their numbers per 10,000 residents:

  • Anaheim: 239 (6.7 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Santa Ana: 202 (6 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Huntington Beach: 162 (8 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Irvine: 119 (4.2 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Newport Beach: 90 (10.3 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Laguna Beach: 36 (15.4 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Costa Mesa: 33 (2.8 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Fountain Valley: 25 (4.4 cases per 10,000 residents)

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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