Orange County health experts allowed to participate in Foley’s COVID-19 briefings again

OCHA Deputy Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong participates 
 Tuesday in a briefing held by Supervisor Katrina Foley.
Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer with the Orange County Health Care Agency, Tuesday in a briefing held by Supervisor Katrina Foley.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

An order prohibiting Orange County Health Care Agency experts from participating in COVID-19 updates hosted by Supervisor Katrina Foley has been lifted, as feuding county officials have reached a détente over how and when to keep the public informed.

Foley explained in a weekly briefing Tuesday issues between her and other supervisors had been ironed out in a recent agreement that will allow her to feature OCHA experts twice monthly, while the county would continue to hold its own media briefings each Friday.

“I’ve been working with the CEO’s office and the Health Care Agency — that’s our compromise that we’ve come to,” she said.

Tuesday’s talk invited members of the media to pose pandemic queries to Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, an OCHA deputy health officer who, alongside other county experts, had been participating in Foley’s talks since early August.

Such appearances came to a halt after then-Supervisor Chairman Andrew Do and 4th District Supervisor Doug Chaffee condemned Foley’s updates as a publicity stunt and barred OCHA officials from joining in.

“Taking county staff away from their jobs for private publicity events is not the most appropriate use of public resources,” Do said in a statement. “It is an abuse of power to use county executive staff to self-promote.”

Foley — who began livestreaming virus talks after the Board of Supervisors stopped hosting regular updates at its own meetings — on Tuesday maintained her primary motivation was to keep residents informed of changing coronavirus trends and statistics.

“My goal always is just to be able to make sure we get accurate information out to the public so they can make appropriate health decisions,” she said.

Foley and Chinsio-Kwong provided an update on the county’s infection rates and COVID-19 hospitalizations, on the decline in recent weeks, and countywide vaccination efforts.

OCHA on Tuesday reported 433 new infections and three deaths. A total of 311 residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 95 being treated in intensive-care units. As of Monday, six children were in the hospital due to the infection, while three were in the ICU.

O.C. health officials are forbidden by Board of Supervisors chair and vice chair to participate in COVID-19 briefings held by colleague Katrina Foley.

Chinsio-Kwong said case rates are averaging at 11.4 per 100,000 people — compared to 16 to 18 at the start of the month — with the average positivity rate at 3.7%, down from 6.8% at the end of August.

“In terms of the case rates and hospitalizations, everything is downward trending,” she added.

Meanwhile, the county’s vaccination rate continues to grow. Chinsio-Kwong said the county inoculated 5,379 people on Monday and is averaging about 1,833 new patients per week.

About 79.7% of all vaccine eligible residents have received at least one dose, while 70.4% are fully vaccinated. Among the at-large population, which ultimately determines herd immunity, only 68.6% have gotten at least one dose, while 60.6% have completed a full regimen.

Media members Tuesday questioned why vaccination rates continue to lag among Latino populations—who, figures show, constitute nearly 36% of Orange County’s population but only 21.3% of vaccinated residents.

Chinsio-Kwong said officials were considering how to reverse such trends, stating Latino residents could make up 15.4% of the vaccinated public whose ethnicity was captured as “other” or “unknown,” but could not explain why neighboring counties, such as San Diego, seemed to have fewer disparities.

Foley said she’d like to engage more deeply with local church and school communities.

“I do think that’s a missing link in reaching the Latino community,” she said.

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