SANTA ANA (CNS) - The Orange County Board of Supervisors has approved a plan to spend $75 million in federal funding to help cities, small businesses and nonprofit organizations with COVID-19-related expenses.
The board also encouraged Orange County's public health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, to modify her weekend order requiring masks be worn in many public settings. Nearly 100 people protested the order at Tuesday's board meeting.
Last week, the board approved sending $26 million of the county's share of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to cities for direct expenses related to battling COVID-19.
The county received $554 million from the federal government's coronavirus relief bill, but expects to use $453 million of it on expenses such as overtime for staff responding to coronavirus emergencies as well as public health and medical costs.
But the board had held off on plans to spend $75 million until Tuesday.
The board rejected a plan by Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner under which the money would be given to cities and officials in the cities would decide which businesses would get grants.
Several mayors in the county prodded the board to support Steel and Wagner's plan.
“We're pushing back on the governor on things like go slow to reopen the beaches, go slow to reopen the malls and his go slow to reopen the hair salons,'' Wagner said. “This pressure on the governor is working... and the mayors are pushing back on us.''
Wagner said the plan approved by the board -- under which the money will be distributed evenly in each of the five supervisorial districts – would delay the allocation of money because an administrator will have to be hired to distribute grants to small businesses.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said Steel and Wagner's plan might see more funding going to other districts that have more small businesses.
“I don't want my district shorted by some formula that has not been set forth,'' Chaffee said.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she wanted to “leverage'' the money in her district through banking programs that would allow for more money to be available in the long run.
“The $75 million to each individual small business -- it's not a lifeline, except for a couple of days,'' Bartlett said.
“You're talking about $500 to $700 or something and that's not going to sustain them for the long term. We have to get them through COVID-19. I want to sustain these businesses for the long term.''
Steel replied, “This is for short-term emergency support,'' and said the hiring of an administrator to distribute the money would add “bureaucracy... and we're just wasting money.''
Wagner said he wouldn't use an administrator to determine who gets the money in his district.
“I'll take care of that,'' he said, adding he would distribute the money to the cities in his district by the end of the week.
Responding to the outcry over Quick's order on masks, Dr. Clayton Chau of the Orange County Health Care Agency told the board her order would be “clarified'' and updated to reflect new orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday allowing hair salons to reopen and churches to begin holding services again next month.
“I think there has been a misunderstanding on how people read the order,'' Chau said.
Chau added that the intent was to tell residents to wear a mask or face covering when they cannot keep 6 feet away from others who are not part of their family.
“So the important piece here is if you are not able to keep (6 feet) of distance is when you must wear a mask,'' Chau said.
Wagner, however, said he was “appalled'' when he read Quick's order. He said there is a double standard between big-box stores and small businesses.
“This is discrimination against our smaller establishments,'' Wagner said. “This order is nonsense from soup to nuts, and it's being forced on us while the state is (backing off on it).''
Steel said, “We always undermine our Orange County residents. They're much smarter than all the elected ones.''
Steel, however, did not appear to understand that people can transmit the virus even though they have not shown symptoms.
“Wearing masks is not to protect yourself,'' Chau said. “Wearing masks is to protect others. That's key number one.... Number two, you don't know if you have the infection because you're asymptomatic.''
Steel then asked if an asymptomatic resident can transmit the virus, and Chau confirmed they can. He also corrected her on the significance of testing to show antibodies “because the first seven to 14 days you are infected you might not produce the antibody.''
The virus is transmitted by droplets emitted from coughing, sneezing or speaking, Chau said. A mask “is stopping the droplets from going out into the air,'' he said.
Supervisor Andrew Do, who was the first on the board to advocate for face coverings in early April, noted that the county “almost invites insurrection'' with a face mask mandate.
Sheriff Don Barnes said he would take an “education first'' approach to the face mask issue. He told the supervisors he did not intend to be the “face mask police.''
“We heard from the sheriff, and it's difficult for a health officer to enforce an order the people don't subscribe to,'' Do said.
Do encouraged Quick to modify her order, which cannot be overturned by the board. Quick was given the authority to hand down such orders during an emergency.
Wagner denounced “threats'' made against Quick on social media.
“The threats against Dr. Quick are absolutely unacceptable in a civilized society,'' Wagner said.
Quick has been “under sheriff's protection'' the past couple of weeks, Wagner said.
Referring to some speakers at the meeting, who said they would protest outside of Quick's house, Wagner said, “I do think that the right to protest in front of her house is constitutionally protected, but to the extent any threats are made, those cannot be, and the sheriff would be within his rights and encouraged by all five us to act quickly to protect her, her family and her loved ones.''
Orange County on Tuesday reported 110 new cases of COVID-19 and a jump in hospitalizations, but the death toll was unchanged at 131.
The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus increased from 198 to 269, with the number of patients in intensive care climbing from 69 to 106.
Chau said 19 of the patients were from out of the county as Orange County's hospitals help with overflow from neighboring counties.
The total number of confirmed cases rose to 5,578, while the number of people tested for the virus since the pandemic began stood at 105,138.
Officials say 52 of the deaths come from skilled nursing facilities.
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