SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's chief health officer says there has been an uptick in “community transmission'' of the coronavirus since stay-at-home orders have been relaxed.
Dr. Nichole Quick made the statement Tuesday, when three additional COVID-19 fatalities and 100 new coronavirus cases were reported, raising Orange County's death toll to 150 and the cumulative case total to 6,574. Quick, who appeared before the Orange County Board of Supervisors, again defended her order to require masks for residents wherever they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing, after coming under fire from Supervisor Don Wagner.
“There is conflicting data out there'' on the necessity for face coverings, Wagner told Quick. “Does it change your view on the mask order?''
Quick said wherever face covering orders were implemented the rate of spread of the coronavirus went down.
“We are seeing an increase in community transmission,'' she said. “I also think our hospitalization rates have been trending up.''
Quick said it's important as more residents return to jobs in businesses that had been shut down during the pandemic that face coverings be used to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“It can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. There is evidence to support that and I feel strongly we need a face covering order in place as we continue to send people out into more social interactions,'' Quick said.
The chief health officer said the masks were not a substitute for physical distancing, handwashing and staying home when sick. “But it's another preventive measure to help stop the spread of Covid in the community.''
Wagner said some residents have complained of “public shaming'' for not wearing a face covering and have been denied service in “pharmacies and other places. Is that an appropriate response to your mask policy?''
Quick replied, “I absolutely think people should not be shamed if they have a medical reason for not wearing a mask.''
Quick offered to boost public education about the mask order or to revise the language of it so it can be more easily understood.
When Wagner asked her how much longer it needed to be in place, Quick said, “Like all things in Covid, we evaluate the data and evidence on a daily basis... As long as we're seeing increasing numbers in the county... I feel the need for a face-covering mandate.''
When Wagner asked her why other neighboring counties have not also issued face-covering orders, Quick said she would not “comment on the dynamics of other counties.''
Quick also said she did not want to discuss what other health officers in neighboring counties have shared with her in meetings amid the pandemic, but pointed out that San Diego and Los Angeles counties have issued face-covering orders.
“We're hearing from our citizens that this is government overreach,'' Wagner said. “If we can't point to other governments responding in the same way ... doesn't that undermine the evidence behind your order?''
Orange County Health Care Agency Director Clayton Chau then jumped into the debate, saying, “People miss the point of the mask -- it's not to protect yourself. It's to protect other people, especially vulnerable people.''
Chau also noted that many residents have let the county know they support the mask order.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who serves as president of the California State Association of Counties, said, “You have to look at each county separately.''
Bartlett said she understood the complaints from residents because a mask can become “stifling'' during a long shopping trip, but she noted there were 200 new coronavirus cases from community transmission on Monday.
“It's not like the trend is going down and we're reaching zero,'' Bartlett said. “To me, that's not a good number and I'd like to see that going down.''
Chau also argued that a boost in coronavirus cases could lead to another state shutdown order.
Bartlett agreed, adding, “The worst thing is we get a huge spike and have to shut down completely. That would be devastating to our businesses and residents, and from a medical perspective.''
According to the Health Care Agency's latest report, 240 people are hospitalized with the coronavirus, with 97 patients being treated in intensive care units.
Orange County has accepted 16 patients from Imperial County to help with an overflow there, Chau said. Health officials do not expect to have to take on more out-of-county patients, he said.
The number of people tested for the virus in the county stands at 136,098, with 2,695 documented recoveries. The recovery rate is incomplete, however, as officials cannot trace every coronavirus case and its result. Santa Ana leads all Orange County cities with 1,267 cases, followed closely by Anaheim with 1,120.
Photos: Getty Images