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Huntington Beach City Hall confirms 33 employees have contracted coronavirus since March

The Huntington Beach Civic Center
A total of 33 city employees in Huntington Beach have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus since internal testing began in March, a city spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Despite “strong safety protocols” being taken in the city of Huntington Beach, a total of 33 city employees have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus since internal testing began in March, a city spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

Catherine Jun, assistant to City Manager Oliver Chi, said the testing of employees suspected of possibly having been infected with the virus began on March 17, one day after city officials declared a local emergency. The first positive test result came back in early June.

“Since then, the total known number of employees who tested positive is 33, as of today,” Jun said in an email to the Daily Pilot. “We haven’t had any employees contract the virus from another employee. All of our positive tests have been due to exposure outside of the workplace.”

Huntington Beach City Hall, which employs 1,486 full- and part-time employees, closed for the second time Monday, after a brief and limited June 29 reopening. Officials announced modified operations would be implemented “as a proactive health and safety measure” in response to a recent surge in infections and hospitalizations.

On Thursday, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported 905 new infections and 22 deaths, bringing countywide coronavirus cases to 32,648 with 543 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Demonstrators in Huntington Beach protesting against social distancing and the economic shutdown.
Huntington Beach demonstrators protest against social distancing and the economic shutdown. On Thursday, city officials confirmed 33 employees have tested positive for the virus.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

In Huntington Beach, which has drawn attention for some residents’ vocal opposition to mask wearing and social distancing, a total of 1,549 residents have contracted the virus. The city is fourth in Orange County — behind Santa Ana and Anaheim, two areas identified by health officials as hot spots, and Garden Grove — in the number of infections.

Jun did not connect this week’s closure of City Hall directly to the number of city employees who’d contracted the virus, saying an employee’s testing positive in and of itself would not necessarily call for a wholesale shutdown.

She said the city is following the latest CDC guidelines and is taking steps to manage suspected or positive cases. In addition to testing employees or contractors who exhibit symptoms, city protocols call for extensive contact tracing and at-home quarantining of individuals who have been exposed to an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

Organizers announced the three-day spectacle, scheduled for Sept. 18 through 20, would not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on large in-person gatherings.

Eight Huntington Beach city employees are currently off work after receiving positive coronavirus tests, the spokeswoman added. A special employee health team comprising representatives from the city manager’s office, human resources and public safety departments has been formed to address the wellness needs of the city’s workforce.

Contact tracing is conducted by health team members, who contact employees possibly exposed to the virus and inform them they must self-quarantine and monitor symptoms in accordance with CDC guidelines. Quarantined employees may only return to work 10 days after the onset of symptoms or a positive test result and after experiencing at least three days with no fever or symptoms, Jun said.

The employee health team is also actively cross-referencing CDC guidelines with orders issued by the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency to construct internal policies that will guide city actions throughout the pandemic.

“These guidelines change regularly, as our knowledge of this disease continues to improve,” Jun said. “Our polices will also adjust to reflect those changes.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency also reported Thursday the coronavirus has claimed the lives of 245 skilled nursing facility residents and 17 assisted living facility residents in the county.

There were 690 patients being treated in hospitals for COVID-19, and 233 of those patients were in intensive care units.

Orange County administered 6,543 tests for the virus over the last day, bringing the county’s total number of tests performed to 380,657. An estimated 17,091 recoveries have been made following a bout with COVID-19.

Here are the latest cumulative case counts and deaths for select cities:

  • Santa Ana: 6,129 cases; 138 deaths
  • Anaheim: 5,621 cases; 135 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 1,549 cases; 44 deaths
  • Irvine: 1,062 cases; eight deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 1,047 cases; seven deaths
  • Newport Beach: 752 cases; five deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 333 cases; eight deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 118 cases; fewer than five deaths

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

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

Daily Pilot staff writer Andrew Turner contributed to this report.

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