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Orange County refines its coronavirus mask order

Coronavirus test kits are ready for patients in a Huntington Beach doctor's office in March.
Coronavirus test kits are ready for patients in a Huntington Beach doctor’s office in March.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Orange County is peeling back its mask order, county officials announced Thursday.

The mask requirement has been relaxed to say the county “strongly recommends” facial coverings in public if they are unable to keep 6 feet of physical distancing. It supersedes a May 28 order issued by now-former county health officer Dr. Nicole Quick, which said people “shall” wear masks when able to maintain distance, with exceptions for very young children and people with conditions that prevent wearing a face covering.

Vocal opponents have been pointed in their criticism of Quick’s mask order and of the doctor herself, who abruptly resigned this week; Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials said in May that Quick had received several threats since issuance of the order and expressed concern for her safety.

HCA Director Dr. Clayton Chau said Thursday that the change was not because of the pushback but to be consistent with recent state guidance for reopened business sectors.

“I want to be clear, this does not diminish the importance of face coverings. I stand with the public health experts and believe wearing cloth face coverings helps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community and save lives. By being consistent with the state, this will give our business community and individuals the ability to make the most appropriate decision,” he said. “And you’ve heard me say this over and over again, wearing a face cloth mask is not to protect yourself but to protect your neighbor, to protect others.”

Costa Mesa, which passed an emergency mask ordinance in April, will continue to require face coverings in stores, restaurants and other businesses.

Mayor Katrina Foley said that while cities cannot have looser rules than those issued by the county, they can go stricter, so Costa Mesa will.

“This is a common-sense, science-based measure intended to ensure the safety not only of Costa Mesans but of those patrons and employees who visit or work in our city. But our city is not in a vacuum, and the actions of neighboring cities, the regulations of the county, have a substantial impact on our residents and workers,” she wrote in a Thursday letter to county officials in defense of broader mask orders.

“If we are to effectively reopen our businesses and revive our economy, mandatory use of facial coverings countywide is necessary and proper to ensure the protection of the residents and workers in the city of Costa Mesa and throughout Orange County. The independence of the county health officer to ensure our collective public health and safety should not be interfered with by the Board of Supervisors.”

Supervisors Vice Chair Andrew Do encouraged wearing a mask when people cannot maintain enough physical distancing.

“If you are feeling sick it is strongly recommended to wear a mask and social distance and stay at home,” said Chair Michelle Steel. “Public health is of the utmost importance during this crisis.”

Meanwhile, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported 260 new infections of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 Thursday and 1,831 additional tests over Wednesday, bringing Orange County to 7,987 known cases of the coronavirus and 172,072 total tests given. Daily updates are preliminary and subject to change as the county receives new information.

Deaths from COVID-19 increased by four, to 202 total. Two of the new deaths were in nursing homes.

Reported hospitalizations were at 294, with 142 in intensive care.

Estimated total recoveries increased to 3,726.

Thursday’s cumulative case count is significant because it starts a new cycle in the disease’s doubling time, which shows a disease’s relative growth rate, in the county.

The longer it takes a population to double, the slower the relative growth.

From March 13 to 31 for example, in the pandemic’s early weeks, confirmed coronavirus cases in Orange County doubled on average once every four days, according to county data.

After that, while cases grew steadily, doubling times stretched out — to eight days, then 17, then 19, then, as of Thursday, to 28 days.

By date and case count:

  • March 31: 488 cases
  • April 8: 996 cases
  • April 25: 1,946 cases
  • May 14: 3,937 cases
  • June 11: 7,987 cases

Cases will double again when Orange County sees about 16,000 cumulative positive tests.

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

  • Santa Ana: 1,716 (50.8 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Anaheim: 1,482 (41.2 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Huntington Beach: 404 (19.8 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Irvine: 227 (8.1 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Newport Beach: 166 (19 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Costa Mesa: 159 (13.7 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Fountain Valley: 71 (12.5 cases per 10,000 residents)
  • Laguna Beach: 49 (21 cases per 10,000 residents)

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

For information on getting tested, visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing.

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