SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County supervisors have voted to reopen parking lots at county parks and approved a plan to boost COVID-19 testing according to state guidelines.
Supervisor Don Wagner on Tuesday made the motion to reopen the parking lots for the parks, but parking lots for beaches will remain closed. Parks themselves have never been closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Why not beaches?” Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel asked.
Wagner said he wanted to avoid antagonizing Gov. Gavin Newsom, who ordered a shutdown of the county's beaches but later worked out compromises to allow for active-use only.
“That's in response to the concerns from folks in Sacramento,” Wagner said. “But we aren't seeing the same hoops being asked of us to jump through in regards to the parks.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the south county cities with beaches in her district don't want the beach parking lots reopened.
Events and activities will not be offered at the parks, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said. Opening the lots, which have been closed since March 25, will just make it easier for residents to keep using the parks for hiking and exercise, he said.
Later Tuesday, OC Parks Director Stacy Blackwood issued a memo on a phased reopening of county parks that will begin Saturday.
Parks officials are working with the Orange County Health Officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, on plans to reopen park restrooms, athletic fields and courts for “self-guided play.”
By Saturday, parking lots, restrooms, fishing lakes, athletic fields and courts at all of the county's regional parks will be open. The county's wilderness parks parking lots, bathrooms and trailheads and trails will be open as well.
At the county's camping parks, the parking lots, day-use areas, restrooms, showers and individual campsites will be open, but not group campsites.
The OC Zoo, nature centers, historic buildings, playgrounds, and exercise equipment will remain closed for the time being.
The board also voted to adopt California Department of Public Health guidelines for expanding COVID-19 testing and to direct county staff to ramp up efforts to test more residents. This comes as more tests have become available. The state updated its guidelines because of the availability of more tests.
The state has created two tiers for testing. Tier 1 applies to hospitalized patients, health care workers, first responders and social service employees whether they are sick or asymptomatic, residents 65 or older whether they are sick or not, or anyone with chronic medical conditions that make them vulnerable to coronavirus.
The first tier also expands testing in skilled nursing and congregant facilities and for frontline workers in grocery stores and utilities.
The second tier is for lower-risk people who do not have symptoms.
Wagner questioned why the county should be ramping up testing when there does not appear to be a great demand for it.
“I'm not sure what this adds to our debate or how this helps out our citizens when we already have three times the number of tests available today” that are being used, Wagner said.
Supervisor Andrew Do, who is on the testing ad-hoc committee with Supervisor Doug Chaffee, said expanded testing will be particularly useful in reaching out to the “underserved communities” where the outbreaks are highest. Do said a UC Irvine study showed that Latinos in particular are being hard hit by the virus.
“Until now the testing for those communities has been very low,” Do said. “So this is more of a focus on our effort in terms of outreach.”
County officials have been recently offering testing in community clinics, Do said.
All of Orange County's House members sent a letter to Orange County Health Care Agency Director Clayton Chau expressing “concerns” regarding “disparities” in testing between Orange County and other counties.
The House members asked for a meeting with Chau, who started work last week, and included a series of questions about the county's efforts to test for COVID-19.
“We have heard reports that some Orange County laboratories are not reporting test results on a daily basis,” they wrote in the letter. “Please provide more detail, including laboratory names and your efforts to rectify this.”
Orange County health officials, meanwhile, reported 62 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death Tuesday, bringing the county's totals to 3,602 cases and 77 deaths.
The number of patients hospitalized with the virus stood at 230 on Tuesday, with 100 patients in intensive care, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. That last number rose from 77 the previous day.
The total number of people in the county tested for the virus now stands at 54,769, with 399 tests reported Tuesday.
Of the county's total cases, 3% involve people under 18 years old; 10% are between 18-24; 18% are between 25-34; 15% are between 35-44; 18% are between 45-54; 16% are between 55-64; 10% are between 65-74; 6% are between 75- 84; and 4% are 85 and older.
Of the patients who died, 3% were 25 to 34 years old, 5% were 35 to 44, 10% were 45-54, 13% were 55-64, 17% were 65-74, 29% were 75-84, and 23% were 85 or older.
Men make up 54% of the county's cases and 57% of its fatalities.
Latinos account for 39% of the fatalities and whites 32%, followed by Asians (19%). According to the Health Care Agency, 4% were black, 1% were native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 1% are mixed race, and 3% fall into the category of “other.”
The Orange County Sheriff's Department reported Tuesday that 322 inmates have contracted COVID-19, but only 11 are currently sick from the virus and 117 have recovered. Sheriff's officials are awaiting the results of 73 tests.
There has been no update since Friday on the number of patients and staff afflicted with COVID-19 at skilled nursing facilities in the county. As of Friday, 374 patients had tested positive and 23 had died, and 192 staffers had contracted coronavirus with one dying, according to the county.
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