OCHCA Director Encouraged by Back-to-School COVID Trends

September 30, 2020 Updated: October 1, 2020

Dr. Clayton Chau, the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) director and county health officer, said a recent uptick in the county’s COVID-19 numbers was “small but significant,” as officials announced the county will not be transitioning from the red to the orange tier in California’s monitoring system for at least two more weeks.

County officials had previously hoped to move to the next tier this week, but a jump in the case rate believed to be caused by the effects of Labor Day weekend will keep the county in the same tier beyond the required three weeks.

“That means that as we move forward, we still need to have two weeks of numbers in the orange tier consecutively in order for us to move into the orange tier,” Chau said at the county’s Sept. 29 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The county must have a positivity rate between 2 and 4 percent and a case rate of 1 to 3.9 per 100,000 for those two weeks.

On Sept. 29, Orange County’s data was updated by the state, and it showed a positivity rate of 3.1 percent and a case rate of 4.4. Last week, the case rate was only 3.6 per 100,000.

Despite the setback, Chau said he was impressed at the preventive measures taken by local schools at every level.

Chau said he holds a monthly call with local higher education officials. The three largest schools in Orange County—the University of California–Irvine, California State University–Fullerton, and Chapman University—“have done a wonderful job preparing,” he said.

In addition, none of the elementary schools that obtained waivers from the county to open starting in mid-August experienced a single outbreak.

However, some community members who attended the meeting expressed frustration regarding continued COVID-19 restrictions in the county.

Some parents of children who have returned to school said their sons and daughters had developed sores on their faces from wearing masks for such an extended period of time, especially in the recent hot weather.

Chau said the side effect was unfortunate, but still recommended that children wear masks in school.

“More reports have come out about aerosol transmission, and that’s why the requirement now is in order for a kid to stay indoors an extended amount of time in a classroom, they should be wearing a mask,” he said.

Chau said that California issued new guidelines on Sept. 28 for reopening outdoor playgrounds, a move that had been “much-anticipated.”

Visitors over 2 years of age at playgrounds are required to wear face masks at all times.

The toddlers are mandated to maintain a distance of 6 feet from members of different households, avoid eating or drinking, wash or sanitize their hands before and after using the playground, and limit their visits to 30 minutes per day if others are present.

Each playground facility is required to clean its equipment regularly—daily, if possible—as well as post the maximum number of children allowed on site. Safe distancing spaces must be marked on the ground where families wait to enter.

Unfortunately, the new guidance doesn’t apply to skate parks, according to Chau.

“I already submitted a request to the state to talk about it,” he said.

“The issue with skate parks is … you have too many kids that are skating in every other direction, [and] the risk of them exposing each other is higher.”

In general, Orange County’s numbers are still largely trending in the right direction, Chau said.

The county’s testing capability remains strong. The super site in Anaheim was only at about 30 percent capacity over the last seven days, while the Costa Mesa fairground site was at 46 percent.

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