Commentary: It’s time for O.C. to step up and take responsibility for mitigating the COVID-19 crisis

A jogger and a wildlife photographer wear masks at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

My friend sat 8 feet away from me on his patio and recounted his escape from school in Paris mid-March. His story comes out from behind a mask. My other masked friend occasionally interjected a tale of his great escape from school in Boston.

This is the first time I had seen any friends since I left Pitzer College on March 18, almost two months ago to the day I am writing this.

In the time since that fateful March day, a lot has changed. I had to say goodbye to a baseball season I trained a whole year for, friends I lived with for two years, and a college campus and life I will only have one year left of at best. I also had to say goodbye to the beach, hanging out with friends at home and eating at my favorite restaurants.

I have had to say goodbye to a lot of things. Just like everyone else. And that is what made it all feel OK.

But now I am mad. Real mad.

In the last issue of this newspaper, a commentary piece was written by Michelle Steel, the chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors (for the remainder of the article I will refer to them as the Board of Alrightvisors for reasons to be discussed). It was headlined, “Orange County is ready to lead the way to a sensible, safe reopening.” I would like to respectfully but passionately disagree.

While Orange County has done some things well, including a timely declaration of a county health emergency and advocacy for economic safety nets for businesses, we are not ready to reopen, and our Board of Alrightvisors has shown on the whole their inadequacy and disinterest in responding to this crisis.

I did some investigating with all this time I have on my hands now because, you know, my baseball season and school year got canceled. And what I found was interesting.

We can only test about 0.6 residents a day per 1,000 residents. That number is suggested to be at 1.5 per 1,000 before attempting to reopen. Not to mention the number of new cases per week should be trending downward, while ours has been doing the opposite of that lately.

Ten of those 14 deaths were among skilled nursing facility patients, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency, bring the death toll from the disease to 40 in nursing homes and 112 overall.

And as long as we are talking about numbers, lets actually talk about what they mean. As of Thursday, there have been 112 deaths in Orange County. Have you ever seen 112 dead people? Take a minute and count to 112.

On Sunday, a day after Steel’s article was published, two more actual people died of COVID-19 in Orange County. But we are ready to open up in a “sensible, safe” way.

That’s maddening.

What responsibility do we have to each other in this community? When do we start taking our responsibilities seriously?

Going beyond the numbers and who is accountable to them, our Board of Supervisors could do a better job supervising.

For example, Steel voted against requiring businesses to make workers wear masks. Come on, that was an easy one. That makes me think she genuinely does not care about the health and safety of the community. She also voted to sue California over setting up a treatment center in the Fairview Development Center.

Goals and marks that are set for our safety were ignored actively by Steel and the Alrightvisors throughout the entire crisis response process. So frankly, when she tells me that “Orange County is ready to lead the way to a sensible safe reopening” amid no meaningful improvement of the situation, I read that as “I am Michelle Steel, and there’s nothing wrong actually going on. Brett, your season and school year were needlessly canceled. Sucks to be you, bro #sorrynotsorry.”

I am tired of watching people with the power to fix the mess we are in ignore it because they fear the responsibility. And I am tired of people, my own neighbors, pretending like nothing is wrong in the world. It is time for Orange County to step up and take responsibility for mitigating the COVID-19 crisis. It is real and will not go away unless we make it go away.

I lost some of the things I love most for this — college baseball and college friends. And there are thousands more out there just like me, some even who have lost much more. Don’t trade my last chance to do the things I love most in life for a tan and a round of golf you could have played in a month anyway.

The writer is a former Sage Hill School student and a current student at Pitzer College, where he’s studying politics, philosophy and economics.

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