COVID-19 update: Health officials issue new guidance on wearing face coverings in public

OCDE continues to track the latest developments related to the COVID-19 respiratory illness while working closely with partner agencies including the Orange County Health Care Agency and local school districts. Here are additional sources for updated information:

Below is our running digest, with newer stories posted at the top.

LATEST UPDATES

Updated at 1:25 p.m. on April 2, 2020

Health officials issue new guidance on wearing face coverings in public

State and county health officials have issued new guidance on the use of cloth face coverings for those who must leave their homes for essential activities, saying they could reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by individuals who do not have symptoms while reinforcing physical distancing.

The guidance does not require people to wear face coverings, and they shouldn’t be a substitute for far more effective practices like social distancing and hand washing. The California Department of Public Health also does not recommend that Californians wear N-95 masks or surgical masks, which are needed for health care workers and first responders.

“Wearing a cloth face covering when leaving the house for essential activities may help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by residents who are positive but don’t have any symptoms,” said Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick. “However, it’s important for community members to remember that face coverings are not a replacement for prevention measures like social distancing and frequent hand washing, which continue to be the best way to protect yourself.”

Experts say the best defense against COVID-19 is staying at home and physical distancing; washing hands frequently; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding being around sick people; and staying home if you’re sick.

The state Department of Public Health defines face coverings as cotton, silk or linen used to cover the mouth and nose. Coverings can be homemade or improvised from everyday items such as scarfs, bandanas, T-shirts, sweatshirts or towels. For more information visit www.cdph.ca.gov.

Other developments:

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Updated at 9:46 p.m. on April 1, 2020

State superintendent announces new guidance on grading and grad requirements for seniors

California education officials have issued new guidance on graduation requirements and grading for high school seniors.

Announced late Wednesday by state schools chief Tony Thurmond, the guidance was drafted in collaboration with local districts and higher education institutions.

“We are thinking of our seniors and the impact that the current COVID-19 public health emergency and subsequent physical closure of schools has had on them, and we hope that this guidance will help relieve some stress and anxiety,” Thurmond said. “We are doing everything we can to support all our schools and students, and will continue to address seniors’ needs going forward.”

The California Department of Education has been working with the UC, CSU and community college systems, as well as with private and non-profit universities, on solutions to a number of admissions challenges.

The new guidance covers A-G requirements and provides information relevant to seniors and juniors, addressing such questions as “If an LEA switches to a ‘credit’ or ‘pass’ instead of a letter grade, how will that impact a student’s admission to UC or CSU?”

You can find answers to that and more here: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/gradegraduationfaq.asp

“All seniors who are on track for graduation should be able to graduate,” State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond said in a statement. “This new guidance further illustrates how students can and should be held harmless in grading, and how their work can be acknowledged.”

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Updated at 4:21 p.m. on April 1, 2020

County supt. recommends keeping campuses closed to students this year and focusing on distance learning

Citing forecasts from the governor and California’s schools chief, Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares on Wednesday recommended that local school districts cancel in-person classes and activities through the end of the school year and move toward adopting robust distance learning models.

An image of Superintendent Al Mijares

Al Mijares

OC districts temporarily dismissed students on March 13 in response to COVID-19 fears and calls for social distancing. Many initially announced campus closures of two to three weeks but have since extended those timelines based on guidance from state and local health officials.

“This has placed our schools in a holding pattern, and it has been difficult for families to make long-term plans,” Mijares said. “Now, as we enter a new phase in our understanding of the threat, it is time to address the reality that our efforts to flatten the curve and keep students safe cannot be accomplished in the span of a few weeks or even a month.”

The superintendent said educators and families have already found innovative ways to communicate and build lessons that support academic continuity, but more must be done to ensure equity, access, support and high-quality learning.

“Fatigued though we may be, the time has come to take a quantum leap by creating online systems that build knowledge and skills, allow for student work to be submitted and graded, support equity and socio-emotional learning, and encourage vigorous interaction between young learners and their teachers,” he said.

The superintendent’s statement, which can be read here in its entirety, followed a press conference featuring California Governor Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Both predicted that students will not be returning to their campuses this year.

“To all of the moms, all the teachers, all the caregivers, I know how stressful this is, trust me,” the governor said. “I know what we’re asking of you over the course of the next few months.”

Other developments:

  • The University of California says it will ease admissions requirements at each of the system’s nine campuses for students applying for fall 2021. The temporary changes include suspending the requirement that students take standardized tests and allowing pass-fail grades for spring classes affected by the pandemic. The university also expects to work with admitted students to adjust financial aid packages if family financial circumstances have suddenly changed.
  • School counselors across Orange County are embracing innovative ways to support the emotional wellbeing and academic success of students. Luz Arellano, coordinator of K-12 school counseling for OCDE, shared five ways counselors are using technology to help students at home, along with a virtual toolkit for counselors.

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Updated at 7:13 p.m. on March 31, 2020

State superintendent says schools, districts should plan on student dismissals extending to summer

Echoing comments from the governor, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Tuesday that campuses will likely not reopen to students before summer break.

Tony Thurmond

Tony Thurmond

“Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing, it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year,” Thurmond said in a statement.

The superintendent stressed that this does not mean school is over for the year. Instead, he said districts should put their efforts into strengthening their distance learning models, adding that the state is supporting this work.

Additional guidance will be released this week to address grading and graduation requirements for high school juniors and seniors, Thurmond said. Meanwhile, a survey sent to districts will help state officials identify technology gaps.

A media briefing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 1.

The state’s schools chief said the California Department of Education is working to “ensure that all students have access to devices and internet if they need it for their distance learning requirements.”

“We are in unprecedented times,” he said, “and it’s hard to tell what the future holds as we are all doing our best to flatten the curve. From what we know right now, our schools will be closed longer than we originally thought, and it will be best if our schools are prepared for that extension, by having their distance learning models prepared to go until the end of the school year.”

Other developments:

  • The number of documented COVID-19 cases in Orange County has surpassed 500. The OC Health Care Agency on Tuesday upped its count to 502 confirmed cases, including seven deaths.

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Updated at 3:05 p.m. on March 30, 2020

State and national social distancing orders remain in effect

Orange County’s public health order to suspend non-essential public and private gatherings was originally set to expire on March 31. But county health officials issued a reminder on Monday that Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order remains in effect — and supersedes any local guidance.

On March 19, Gov. Newsom and the California Department of Public Health ordered all individuals to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care, or go to an essential job. The state order, which is open-ended, also called for social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet of space between individuals.

As of Monday, local health officials had documented 464 COVID-19 cases in Orange County, resulting in four deaths.

Other developments:

  • Over the weekend, President Trump said he would extend social distancing measures until April 30, a departure from previous statements in favor of an earlier date. “The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end,” Trump said during a briefing.
  • With school districts across Orange County pivoting to distance learning models in real time, OCDE’s Educational Services division has developed a cache of online resources for educators, counselors and families. The Instructional Continuity website was curated by a diverse team of instructional leaders and technology specialists.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a waiver to allow parents and guardians to pick up school meals on behalf of their children. The flexibility, designed to support social distancing practices, would apply to local grab-and-go programs that receive federal funding. Under the terms of the waiver, districts should have a process in place to ensure that meals are distributed only to parents or guardians of eligible children, and that duplicate meals are not distributed to any child.​
  • OneOC, which brings nonprofit organizations and companies together to serve the community, has activated its Emergency Volunteer Center for those who want to virtually or physically take part in disaster recovery projects and other needs. The group says social distancing and personal protective measures are in place to prevent close contact. Visit oneoc.org for details.

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Updated at 6:15 p.m. on March 27, 2020

OC Health Care Agency posts city-by-city count of COVID-19 cases

Orange County health officials began posting COVID-19 cases by city on the OC Health Care Agency’s website Friday. The counts will be updated every afternoon.

County health officials at a news conference During an afternoon news conference, health officials noted that the statistics correlate with the homes of those who contracted the virus, not necessarily where transmission occurred. Moreover, case counts don’t offer a complete look at transmission rates because testing is prioritized for those at the greatest risk or who are most sick. Asymptomatic residents and those with mild symptoms are typically not tested.

County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said the risk should be assessed countywide, which means it’s important for all residents to practice social-distancing regardless of the case count in a given city. Doing so will help reduce the spread of infection, ease the burden on hospitals and healthcare systems, and protect those most vulnerable, officials said.

To protect patient confidentiality, the number of cases in cities with a population of 25,000 and under will be combined and listed as a category labeled “Other.”

As of Friday, there were 321 documented cases of COVID-19 in Orange County, resulting in three fatalities. It’s not known how many people have recovered from the virus because there aren’t follow-up tests.

Other developments from Friday:

  • Along with using the Defense Production Act to order General Motors to produce ventilators for hospitals, President Trump signed the largest economic stimulus package in American history. The $2 trillion measure, which had passed through both houses of Congress, will send payments of $1,200 to millions of Americans and expand aid to those who are out of work. It will also provide $100 billion in COVID-19 funding to hospitals, make $377 billion in federally guaranteed loans available to small businesses and establish a $500 billion government lending program to help struggling companies.
  • Also Friday, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said California has received preliminary federal approval to waive state testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year. California requested approval from the U.S. Department of Education on March 26.

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Updated at 2:58 p.m. on March 26, 2020

Increased COVID-19 testing leads to higher OC count; hotline available for those with anxiety

More testing means more confirmed cases.

That’s been a consistent message from the OC Health Care Agency, which on Thursday reported that the total number of COVID-19 cases in Orange County had climbed to 256. The latest count is up 69 from Wednesday, and it’s based on 3,605 tests.

Orange County Health Care Agency building“An increase in reported cases is one of the factors of increased testing,” said County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick. “This serves as a reminder of the importance of staying at home and social distancing when leaving the household for essential activities, or to work at an essential business. It is our responsibility to help protect the community and work together to flatten the curve in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Those experiencing mild symptoms — and who don’t otherwise need medical care — do not require testing for COVID-19, the agency said. In those cases, individuals should recuperate at home just as they would with a mild illness.

Here are a few related items from Thursday:

  • The County of Orange has resources available for those experiencing worry or anxiety related to COVID-19. Residents are encouraged to call 855-625-4657 or visit www.ochealthinfo.com/oclinks Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to talk or chat with a trained, clinical navigator.
  • If you have medical questions about COVID-19, call the OC Health Care Agency’s Health Referral Line at 800-564-8448 or visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com. You can also follow the HCA on Facebook and Twitter. For non-medical questions, contact the County of Orange Public Information Hotline at 714-628-7085.

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Updated at 7:12 p.m. on March 25, 2020

Here’s what distance learning looks like for one Brea teacher

As we’ve mentioned previously, teachers across Orange County are embracing creativity and innovation to provide academic continuity for their students.

Students engaging in distance learningSpectrum News 1 recently demonstrated some ingenuity of its own to provide this inside look at how Fanning Academy of Science and Technology teacher Lisa Esparza is keeping her kids connected using Google Classroom and Zoom.

Along with showing the class’s online meet-ups, reporter Zack Tawatari somehow managed to pull together clips of individual students engaging in distance learning from home.

The segment notes that talking online isn’t always flawless, and students are missing their regular routines, but teleconferencing technology allows them to get a little face-time with their teacher.

“They would love to be next to me or next to each other in the classroom, but they’re eager to jump on,” Esparza told Spectrum News 1.

This kind of learning might not yet be possible for students who lack stable internet access at home, but districts across the county are working to close the digital divide, and these kinds of stories certainly capture a unique moment in history.

Also on Wednesday:

  • Orange County health officials said they would start sharing COVID-19 statistics broken down by city on Friday, March 27. The figures should be available on the OC Health Care Agency’s website, which was recently redesigned. In an afternoon news conference, the deputy director of public health services said the agency will also share a graphic illustration showing the rate of new cases in the county.

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Updated at 6:22 p.m. on March 24, 2020

Orange County reports first death from COVID-19

County health officials on Tuesday confirmed the first Orange County death attributed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The patient was identified as a man in his 70s with underlying health conditions. He was receiving treatment at a local hospital, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the patient’s family and friends,” County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said. “This serves as a very unfortunate reminder to the community about the importance of staying at home and social distancing when leaving the household for essential activities, or to work at an essential business, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help protect our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Additional details about the man’s death, including the name of the hospital he was at and his city of residence, will not be disclosed, the agency said.

As of Tuesday evening, there were 152 known cases of COVID-19 in Orange County. Of those, 45 were considered “community acquired,” meaning they were not travel-related or connected to another known case.

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Updated at 3:01 p.m. on March 24, 2020

New FEMA webpage seeks to stamp out rumors, misinformation

There’s no national shutdown, you don’t need to stockpile groceries and you shouldn’t respond to scammers pretending to offer $1,000 checks from the government.

Those are some of the rumors the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is hoping to clear up with a new webpage at www.fema.gov/coronavirus-rumor-control.

“Do your part to stop the spread of disinformation by doing 3 easy things,” the agency says. “Don’t believe the rumors, don’t pass them along and go to trusted sources of information to get the facts about the federal (COVID-19) response.”

FEMA says trusted sources include coronavirus.gov, as well as the official websites and social media accounts of state and local governments.

Other developments from Tuesday:

  • Some local teachers are creating YouTube channels. Others are using social media, along with video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype. The OCDE Newsroom has shared a few examples from social media to show how OC educators are building virtual classrooms from scratch to ensure learning continues even when campuses are closed.

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Updated at 6:55 p.m. on March 23, 2020

There’s now an app to help families find grab-and-go meal sites

The state Department of Education has created an app for iPhone and Android devices that allows parents to find nearby schools, community centers and other sites offering free grab-and-go meals while campuses are closed to students.

Grab and go app iconThe app allows users to find sites through custom Google maps, by county, city, zip code and partial site name. Users can also filter their searches to see which locations are active or inactive and whether they’re serving lunch, breakfast or snacks. The app also provides contact information, days of service and other details.

The app doesn’t currently offer a complete list of grab-and-go locations, as districts are continuing to provide their information to the state. Officials say they hope the app will eventually offer a comprehensive database of meal sites across California.

Users can download the app through Apple’s App Store or Google Play.

The OCDE Newsroom is also continuing to update its list of grab-and-go meal sites for Orange County.

Other developments from Monday:

  • Residents can sign up to receive text message alerts about COVID-19 in Orange County. To opt-in, text OCCOVID19 to 888777. The county’s Emergency Operations Center launched the one-way alert system as an additional way for community members to receive regular updates about the coronavirus.
  • As of Monday evening, there were 125 known cases of COVID-19 in Orange County. Of those, 38 are considered “community acquired,” meaning they are not travel-related or connected to another known case. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 33,404 cases in the U.S.

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Updated at 4:32 p.m. on March 21, 2020

Several OC school districts extend student dismissals

In light of Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order and the latest guidance from local health officials, a number of Orange County districts have pushed back their student dismissal dates until April or May.

OCDE is among them, announcing that students will not return to alternative education or special education sites until April 30.

In a statement on Friday, County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares announced his support for extending student dismissals based on the governor’s order and current social distancing guidelines. Meanwhile, districts throughout the county continue to build out distance learning plans and lessons.

The OCDE Newsroom is tracking district schedules and grab-and-go meal times, but be sure to check your local district’s website for the latest updates.

Other developments from Saturday:

  • The number of documented COVID-19 cases in Orange County has risen to 78, according to the Health Care Agency. Of those, 29 were the result of community transmission.
  • UCI says it was notified that a resident living in its graduate student housing has tested positive for the coronavirus. The patient, who is not a student, is isolated, and officials say the risk of contamination is low.

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Updated at 8:43 p.m. on March 20, 2020

Second Harvest Food Bank of OC to provide bags of food to residents in need

Residents who have been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to pick up bags of food courtesy of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County on Saturday, March 21 in the Honda Center parking lot.

The organization says it will hand out shelf-stable items — these can be safely stored at room temperature — from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays beginning this weekend. Visitors are encouraged to enter at Douglass Road and follow the signs.

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Updated at 4:31 p.m. on March 20, 2020

County Superintendent Mijares issues statement in support of districts extending student dismissals

Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares on Friday announced his support for extending student dismissals until the governor ends his order for Californians to stay home and public health officials modify social distancing guidelines.

An image of Superintendent Al Mijares

Al Mijares

“Keeping children home from school is a drastic measure, one that shows how seriously health officials and educators are taking this public health threat,” Mijares said in a statement. “I have always believed our public schools should be lighthouses in the community, and that students learn best when they are working directly with their teachers and engaging with their peers. … At this time, however, it is impossible to foresee when this crisis will be over.”

Even though campuses throughout the state have temporarily dismissed students, the superintendent said educators are working to provide healthy meals and academic continuity for students.

“The bottom line is we are ‘doing school’ differently right now by pivoting to distance learning in real time,” Mijares said. “This requires innovation, creativity and collaboration on an unprecedented scale to ensure that the best practices of one district can flourish in another, if feasible.”

Read the full statement at newsroom.ocde.us/mijares_statement_3-20-20.

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Updated at 9:18 a.m. on March 20, 2020

VIDEO: Here are a few tips on social distancing with children

The governor’s recent order — see below — means we’ll all be spending a lot more time at home, which is easier said than done, especially with young children.

This brief video created by OCDE’s Media Services team offers some tips for families adjusting to new routines.

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Updated at 9:26 p.m. on March 19, 2020

‘We need to do more’: Governor orders Californians to stay home

Triggering the nation’s tightest restrictions to halt the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered nearly all Californians to shelter in place at home.

The executive order impacting nearly 40 million state residents will remain in place until further notice.

Gavin Newsom“It’s time for all of us to recognize, as individuals and as a community, we need to do more to meet this moment,” Newsom said during an evening news conference.

Californians will still be allowed to obtain essential needs, meaning a number of businesses will be permitted to remain open. They include gas stations, pharmacies, markets, grocery stores, take-out and delivery restaurants, banks and laundry services.

In a message to educational leaders on Thursday night, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said the governor’s order does not change or impact the role of schools, specifically their duty to provide meals and learning continuity for students during extended dismissals.

Critical infrastructure sectors will also remain open, as will essential state and local government facilities including police stations and offices that provide government programs and services.

You can find additional information here: covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs

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Updated at 3:23 p.m. on March 19, 2020

County Superintendent Mijares outlines distance learning efforts at OC forum

Local campuses have dismissed students based on current social distancing guidelines, but that doesn’t mean schools are closed.

Speaking Thursday during a livestreamed forum on COVID-19 and its countywide impacts, Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares said schools and districts are pivoting to distance learning models in real time to maintain academic continuity for students.

“We have the capacity to provide online learning,” Mijares said. “It’s becoming more robust as we speak.”

In addition to working with platforms like Canvas, which facilitates digital learning, the Orange County Department of Education has connected with PBS SoCal, which is broadcasting standards-based educational content, he said.

The idea is to support districts throughout the county as they finalize their own distance learning plans based on their local needs.

“Kids have devices so this is not a foreign idea to them,” Mijares said.

Don Wagner and Al MijaresThe county superintendent was paired with Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner during the second of three segments of “Coronavirus: The OC Response,” which was presented by OC Forum with support from UCI. The session kicked off with UCI experts discussing epidemiology, public health and social distancing.

Mijares acknowledged that keeping students home represents a drastic measure, one that signals how seriously school officials are taking the coronavirus threat.

“We are here to serve students, and they need to be in school,” he said. “They need to be working with a teacher. They need to be engaging with their peers, and parents need that type of support. It’s a 24/7 responsibility that we all have.”

Asked when schools might open, he said the situation remained fluid. OCDE and local school districts continue to follow the guidance of the Orange County Health Care Agency. Some district leaders have indicated they will extend their student dismissals.

“It’s really almost a day-by-day basis,” Mijares said. “It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next.”

The first segment featured Bernadette Boden-Albala, UCI’s dean of Public Health; Dr. Steve Goldstein, UCI’s vice chancellor of Health Affairs, and Dr. Susan Huang, UCI’s medical director of Epidemiology and Infection Prevention.

The event concluded with Orange County Business Council CEO Lucy Dunn, Orange County United Way CEO Susan Parks and Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County CEO Harald Herrmann.

You can watch a replay of the livestream on OC Forum’s YouTube channel.

Here are some other developments today:

  • School nurses from campuses across Orange County have teamed up with CHOC Children’s nursing team to staff provide some peace of mind for parents concerned about COVID-19. We’re told dozens of nurses are manning CHOC’s new hotline at 1-844-GET-CHOC. The service, which launched this week, is running live 24/7, giving parents a chance to ask questions about the virus and their children.
  • PBS SoCal has created an At-Home Learning program aimed at helping provide free educational resources to students across partner television channels and through an online platform. The program was created in collaboration with Los Angeles Unified School District, which helped craft instructional materials that adhere to the state’s educational standards.

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Updated at 4:31 p.m. on March 18, 2020

Governor suspends standardized tests for K-12 students

Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on Wednesday to waive this year’s statewide assessments for K-12 students.

The order, which is pending federal approval, would apply to more than 6 million students in California.

“This time is stressful enough for students, families and educators without the additional burden of annual testing,” Newsom said. “This is an unprecedented time, and our main focus is on supporting the mental and socio-emotional health of students, while continuing to provide educational opportunities such as distance learning.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond supported the cancellation.

“Our districts need some relief and this decision is in the best interest of our students and our state,” Thurmond said.

Also Wednesday:

  • During an afternoon news conference, Orange County health officials clarified that they were not asking all local businesses to shut down — only bars, restaurant dining rooms and other areas where larger groups typically congregate. Other businesses were encouraged to promote social distancing practices, including maintaining 6 feet of separation. The OC Health Care Agency says there are now 42 recorded cases of COVID-19 in the county, including 12 community-acquired cases.
  • A PBS KIDS story on how to talk to children about COVID-19 has been making the rounds. Tips include sharing age-appropriate facts, correcting misinformation, assuring kids they are safe and empowering them to be germ-busters.
  • US News & World Report also offers guidance, encouraging parents to ask questions to understand what kids know, answer questions without inundating them with information, and validate children’s concerns.

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Updated at 1:06 p.m. on March 18, 2020

State education leaders issue new guidance for schools, districts

The California Department of Education introduced new COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools on Tuesday, covering distance learning and student meals.

Image of CDE logo

Similarly, the state’s Health and Human Services Agency shared considerations for child care and supervision.

“It is imperative that we exhaust all efforts to minimize the disruptive impact a school closure can have on our students and their families,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said.

Developed by state educational leaders in collaboration with the governor’s office, the resources are intended to address some of the more pressing concerns of teachers, administrators and parents in the wake of school closures.

Here are some of the highlights:

Distance learning

  • Districts should use a combination of technology and non-technology based activities. Additionally, students can work semi-independently, while teachers are available for “office hours” and student check-ins.
  • Districts must consider equity and access for students who may not have necessary technology when developing distance learning programs. Districts are encouraged to work with their local internet service providers and community groups to help ensure families receive free or affordable internet access during this time of crisis. Districts can also make available to students devices such as Chromebooks so they can connect with teachers.
  • Schools can also make available paper workbooks for families to pick from schools if online learning is not the most convenient option. For these students, teachers can schedule in-person meetings with individual students as long as they follow CDC health guidelines, including social distancing procedures.

School meals

  • Districts should continue offering nutritious lunch and breakfast options, especially for those children ages 18 and younger who rely on free or reduced-priced meals during traditional school hours.
  • Meal distribution sites should be located in areas that are easily accessible to children eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Schools do not need to distribute meals on a school site and can distribute them at another site convenient to the community such as, but not limited to, local food banks, resource centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, community centers and libraries.
  • No meal applications or fees should be collected from children or families. But currently, children must be present to receive meals.

Child care and supervision

  • Districts receiving funding for child care programs should, to the extent practicable, arrange for supervision for students during ordinary school hours.
  • Districts should coordinate with the local Health Care Agency to ensure these programs remain safe for students and staff.
  • Districts should collaborate with community partners and other local and state government agencies to provide “pop-up” child care centers for emergency responders and other workers in jobs deemed essential during a time of crisis.

The full guidance can be found at www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/coronavirus.asp.

“Child care, educational options, meal service, and providing support to our students with disabilities are all issues that our school communities are grappling with right now,” Thurmond said in a statement. “I am pleased that the governor provided the necessary answers and solutions that our LEAs (local education agencies) need to move forward as they continue to support and serve students throughout the state.”

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Updated at 5:37 p.m. on March 17, 2020

County health officer calls for suspension of nonessential gatherings; governor says schools could remain closed into summer

Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick issued a new ban on public and private gatherings Tuesday, calling for a suspension of all social, professional and community activities that are considered nonessential.

Quick clarified that the order is not a countywide shelter-in-place, adding that businesses should stay open and follow social distancing guidelines consistent with the governor’s guidance.

Also on Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom said he anticipated few schools, if any, would reopen before summer break. Though he didn’t elaborate during his afternoon news conference, it marked the first time a state official has issued a statement suggesting California schools may be closed into the summer over COVID-19 concerns.

The order for Orange County, which could be revised or extended in the future, is effective immediately and continues through March 31.

Orange County Health Care Agency building“We are taking these mitigation steps in line with a directive issued by Governor Newsom to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Quick said in a statement. “We recognize community members may experience anxiety related to the social disruption caused by COVID-19 and want to encourage residents to reach out to loved ones using appropriate methods like telephone, video messaging, email and text.”

Educational services — including K-12 schools, colleges and universities — were characterized as essential for the purpose of facilitating distance learning and performing other critical operations. Health care operations, grocery stores, banks, gas stations and news outlets were also on the list of institutions considered necessary for society to function.

Child care centers that enable employees to perform essential job duties were exempt in the order. But, to the extent possible, Quick said child care must be carried out in stable groups and in separate rooms if there are multiple groups. 

The order goes on to say all bars and establishments that don’t serve food must close, which is consistent with guidance from the California Department of Public Health, and restaurants must suspend on-site dining in favor of takeout, delivery or drive-through options.

Quick says all businesses that are up and running must practice social distancing, raise sanitation standards and make every effort to use telecommuting.

Here are some other developments today:

  • The OC Health Care Agency had documented 29 COVID-19 cases in Orange County as of Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. There are eight recorded cases of community transmission, meaning they were not travel-related or connected to a known case.
  • Charter Communications is offering free broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 students or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. Cox Communications has also announced it will support residential customers in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Updated at 11:03 a.m. on March 17, 2020

VIDEO: A quick look at how social distancing helps ‘flatten the curve’

We’ve heard a lot about social distancing lately, and you might have also heard the term “flattening the curve.” The two concepts are connected.

The idea is that minimizing social contact can effectively slow the spread of a virus so you don’t get a huge wave of illnesses all at once. If that were to happen, a community might not have enough hospital beds or staff to manage patient care.

As explained in our brief video, infectious disease experts say it helps to spread cases out over weeks or months so that health care systems can keep pace.

***

Older Posts

Updated at 7:20 a.m. on March 17, 2020

New guidance from White House says no social gatherings with more than 10 people

President Trump on Monday released new guidelines to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. They include avoiding discretionary travel, shopping trips and social gatherings with groups of more than 10 people.

Here are some other recent developments:

  • County Superintendent Al Mijares announced Monday that OCDE’s offices will temporarily close to the public on March 17 and most employees will have the option of staying home through March 27. That story is below.
  • In the Bay Area, where the rate of infection is much higher, six counties issued “shelter in place” orders for nearly 6.7 million people, directing residents there to stay at home as much as possible.

***

Updated at 2:45 p.m. on March 16, 2020

OCDE offices will temporarily close to the public; staff given the option of staying home

Citing the need for “extraordinary measures” to halt the spread of COVID-19, Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares announced Monday that OCDE’s offices will temporarily close to the public on March 17 and most employees will have the option of staying home through March 27.

“Suffice to say, these are extraordinary times,” Mijares said. “While OCDE has emergency plans and protocols in place, we are dealing with a public health crisis that is rising to a level not previously seen in our lifetimes.”

An image of the OCDE sign at the administrative campus on KalmusSome staff may be required to report to work to support essential services. Others can work remotely in service of students and critical operations. Flexible schedules may also be accommodated.

The Orange County Department of Education serves some of the county’s most vulnerable student populations, including incarcerated students, foster youth and students with significant disabilities. OCDE also provides critical services to local school districts, including payroll operations, training, high-speed internet access and technology support.

Mijares noted that social distancing measures have proven effective during pandemics, slowing the spread of viruses so there’s not a huge wave of illnesses at once.

“We appreciate the patience and professionalism you have exhibited these past weeks as leadership has worked to support Orange County students,” Mijares told employees. “Now our national priority must be to slow the exponential spread of this virus, and I believe it is our patriotic duty to do our part.”

Here’s Dr. Mijares’ memo to staff:

Over the weekend, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued new recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19, outlining sweeping changes to our work and personal lives. Specifically, the governor urged people 65 and older — and those in high-risk categories — to shelter in place at home. He also called for bars, nightclubs, wineries and brewpubs to temporarily shut down and said restaurants should reduce their occupancy levels by half. Similarly, President Donald Trump has instructed Americans to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people for the next 15 days.

Distinguishing between essential and nonessential services, Governor Newsom stressed the need to provide meals for children who have been dismissed from school and continuity for students with special needs. More detailed guidance for California’s schools is expected to be released on Tuesday, March 17.

Suffice to say, these are extraordinary times. While OCDE has emergency plans and protocols in place, we are dealing with a public health crisis that is rising to a level not previously seen in our lifetimes. As a result, the time has come to take extraordinary measures to protect our employees and communities while maintaining support for our students. Effective March 17, 2020, the Orange County Department of Education will take the following actions:

      • OCDE employees will have the option to stay at home through Friday, March 27 and will remain on paid status unless circumstances change or needs arise. Those who can work remotely are encouraged to do so. Please note that per Government Code 3100, public employees are disaster service workers subject to perform not only their usual jobs but other disaster service activities as assigned to them.
      • Some staff may be required to come to work to support essential services. Others may be able to work remotely in service of our students or OCDE operations. Flexible work schedules may be accommodated when possible. Please check in with your supervisor or cabinet representative to discuss and approve your plans.
      • OCDE’s offices will be closed to the public, effective March 17. All meetings and interviews should be canceled or postponed until further notice.
      • All teachers working at home should continue to develop and implement plans for learning continuity under the guidance of your principal.
      • Please log into the Employee Information System to make sure your personal contact information is up to date. We may reach out to you during this timeframe and will anticipate a response within 12 hours.

The actions above may seem unprecedented, but social distancing measures have proven effective in prior pandemics. The idea is to protect those most vulnerable to illness and to limit the number of early cases, ensuring health care systems and health workers aren’t overwhelmed before a vaccine or new treatments become available.

As you know, OCDE exists to serve some of the most vulnerable populations in Orange County, including incarcerated students, foster youth and students with the most significant disabilities. We also provide critical services to local districts, including payroll operations and high-speed internet access and technology support. As such, our employees are vital to supporting the needs of students and families across the county. To the extent that you are comfortable coming to work, or that you are able to continue serving the public at home, we ask that you do your best to support the mission and vision of OCDE.

There are still a number of details to work through, and each day brings new information to consider. We appreciate the patience and professionalism you have exhibited these past weeks as leadership has worked to support Orange County students. Now our national priority must be to slow the exponential spread of this virus, and I believe it is our patriotic duty to do our part. Years from now, it may be impossible to know if our country overreacted to this crisis, but we will certainly know if we under-reacted, particularly if we fail to take emergency precautions now.

As always, I thank you for all of your efforts to keep our students and communities safe.

Sincerely,

Al

***

Updated at 9:17 p.m. on March 15, 2020

OC districts will offer students ‘grab-and-go’ meals during school closures

Orange County school districts are making plans to offer grab-and-go meals to students impacted by school closures. Start dates, sites and service hours will vary, so be sure to check your local district’s website.

Here are some additional developments on Sunday, March 15:

  • More detailed guidelines for schools are expected to be issued by the state on Tuesday, March 17. Newsom recognized the need to provide continuity for children with special needs.
  • The state of California reported 335 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, representing a 14 percent increase from Saturday’s numbers.
  • Orange County has 17 known COVID-19 cases, according to the OC Health Care Agency website. There have been three cases of community transmission, meaning they were not travel-related or tied to a known case.

***

Updated at 2:55 p.m. on March 14, 2020

Number of coronavirus cases in OC increases to 13, including first local case of community transmission

The number of confirmed or presumed-positive coronavirus cases has risen to 13 in Orange County, which also reported its first documented case of community transmission — meaning it was contracted locally.

Here are some other developments as of Saturday, March 14:

  • A day after local educational leaders announced they would close campuses for at least two weeks, the OCDE Newsroom has a rundown of the closure plans for each of Orange County’s 27 districts.
  • A woman in her 50s is the first to acquire COVID-19 locally, according to a news release. She’s currently in stable condition in isolation at a local hospital. The Orange County Health Care Agency is reaching out to anyone who may have been exposed, and an investigation is under way to determine how she contracted the virus.
  • According to the last count posted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, there were 1,629 total cases in the United States, with 41 deaths linked to the virus. California has 224 cases, including 13 in OC.

***

Updated at 5:08 p.m. on March 13, 2020

OC schools to close amid COVID-19 concerns; county superintendent issues statement supporting closures

In an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19, and amid heightened public concern, school districts across Orange County told their communities on Friday that they would shutter campuses for a minimum of two weeks.

They join scores of school systems throughout California that will temporarily dismiss students starting Monday, March 16, including districts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. In many instances, the time off will coincide with spring breaks.

After consulting with school district leaders and county health officials earlier in the day, Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares announced his support for the suspension of school operations for at least 14 days.

“This is not a decision we take lightly,” Dr. Mijares said. “We know that temporarily closing a school has a tremendous impact on our families, and steps will need to be implemented to support the continuity of learning and to ensure students have access to healthy meals. But the safety of our students and staff remains our top priority, and we have confidence that this is the proper precautionary course for Orange County.”

Social distance measures have proven effective in prior pandemics, experts say. The idea is to protect those most vulnerable to illness and to limit the number of cases before a vaccine or treatment becomes available, ensuring health care systems and health workers aren’t overwhelmed.

OCDE sign

In anticipation of potential closures, OCDE has been ramping up production of content and materials to support learning at home. The department will also support districts in their efforts to seek funding relief and recover lost instructional time.

Districts finalizing plans

As of Friday evening, Orange County had 13 COVID-19 cases that were either confirmed or presumptive. There was one case of community transmission, meaning it was not travel-related or tied to a known case, according to the OC Health Care Agency’s website.

“I want to reassure our Orange County community that the risk of transmission remains low, and that there are no known cases of COVID-19 infection in a student or teacher at this time,” County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said Friday. “That said, I understand the concerns parents are experiencing and support the school district’s decision to close temporarily. It’s important to note that as both public and private testing capabilities continue to expand, we expect to see more cases.”

Most of Orange County’s school districts have already finalized plans to close campuses to students for two to four weeks. A few were waiting for their school boards to approve closure plans. No district in the county has indicated it plans to remain open.

Many districts have attached an extra week or two to upcoming spring breaks. Districts including Anaheim Elementary, Brea Olinda Unified, Laguna Beach Unified and Huntington Beach City plan to offer some distance learning options for students. Others are encouraging students to read or engage in other academic activities during their time off.

Governor issues order

Also Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order ensuring California public school still get funding even in the event of a closure. The order directs school districts to use state dollars to fund distance learning and high quality educational opportunities, provide school meals and, as practicable, arrange for the supervision for students during school hours.

District officials in Orange County said they plan to re-evaluate whether they will need to extend closures after assessing the ongoing threats of pandemic. The OCDE Newsroom is working to compile a complete list of district closures and will post it when it’s available.

Here’s the full statement from Superintendent Al Mijares:

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused great anxiety in our schools and communities. While local health officials believe the risk of infection to the public in Orange County is low, we do not yet know how this will ultimately impact our county. Simply put, we are in uncharted waters, and the time has come to hit the pause button until we know more.

An image of Superintendent Al Mijares

Al Mijares

As a precautionary step to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and after careful deliberations with local school district leaders and in consultation with the Orange County Health Care Agency, I hereby support the decision of schools and districts in our county to suspend all activity for a minimum of 14 days.

This is not a decision we take lightly. We know that temporarily closing a school has a tremendous impact on our families, and steps will need to be implemented to support the continuity of learning and to ensure students have access to healthy meals. But the safety of our students and staff remains our top priority, and we have confidence that this is the proper precautionary course for Orange County.

At this time, there has been no evidence of a case affecting a student or staff member at an Orange County school. The Orange County Health Care Agency continues to work with federal, state, and local partners including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and health care providers on preparedness efforts and to guide appropriate care for those who may be at risk for illness associated with the virus.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Department of Education has been stepping up its efforts to produce content and materials to help support learning at home. While it is not possible to replace an instructional day or provide comprehensive course content with online resources or take-home packets, we can develop resources and strategies to provide a continuity of learning.

Districts that dismiss students due to pandemics will be eligible to seek funding emergency relief through the California Department of Education’s J-13A waiver process. In addition, we are asking California’s educational leaders to provide credit for lost instructional time.

The Orange County Department of Education will continue to work diligently with local districts to make sure our schools and students are supported during and after this hiatus.

Thank you for your efforts to keep our children and our communities safe.

Al Mijares
Orange County Superintendent of Schools

***

Updated at 8:45 a.m. on March 12, 2020

State: Large gatherings should be suspended through March

California public health officials announced late Wednesday night that large gatherings should be postponed or canceled across the state until at least the end of March.

Intended to control and slow the spread of COVID-19, the updated policy from the state Department of Public Health says “non-essential” gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people. Smaller events can proceed only if organizers can implement social distancing of 6 feet per person. Gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than 10 people while also following social distancing guidelines.

As affirmed this morning by the Orange County Health Care Agency, the guidance does not apply to regular school classes, workplaces or other essential services.

The state’s updated policy defines a gathering as any event or convening that brings together people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria or any other indoor or outdoor space.

According to the Public Health Department, social distance measures have proven effective in prior pandemics at delaying rates of transmission and reducing illness and death. The goals are to limit the number of Californians who contract COVID-19 before a vaccine or treatment is available, protect those most vulnerable and ensure that our health care systems and workforce aren’t overwhelmed.

“Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease.”

Orange County has four documented cases of COVID-19 and two presumptive positive that are pending confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is currently no evidence of community transmission in the county.

On Thursday, OCDE announced that it would hold this weekend’s National History Day events virtually, and the Orange County Academic Pentathlon will be postponed until further notice.

The state’s updated guidance can be found here:

https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/Gathering_Guidance_03.11.20.pdf

***

Updated at 11:15 a.m. on March 10, 2020

State health officials urge individuals at higher risk to take extra precautions

Californians who are at a higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 should take extra precautions, the state Department of Public Health says.

Early information out of China indicates some groups may be more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. Those more likely to get sick include older adults, individuals with compromised immune systems, and individuals who have serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease.

According to the CDC, limited reporting data suggests that children with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have generally had milder symptoms. Severe complications have been reported, but “they appear to be uncommon.”

Experts continue to reinforce common-sense preventative measures like thorough hand-washing to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. Those at higher risk for serious illness because of their age or health are especially urged to do the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay away from large gatherings and crowds.
  • Stay home as much as possible. Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social or commercial networks.

Orange County currently has two confirmed COVID cases and three presumptive cases that have yet to be officially confirmed, according to the county Health Care Agency.

***

Updated at 6:50 p.m. on March 7, 2020

California releases new coronavirus guidance for schools, colleges and large events

Building on existing plans and the latest science on how the COVID-19 virus is transmitted, state health officials on Saturday issued new guidance for schools, colleges and universities.

“It’s a question of when — not if — some California public schools will face closure because of COVID-19,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a news release. “School districts must prepare for these scenarios so that parents and children can plan for what would happen if their local school faced closure.”

Scenarios and examples

The latest guidance for schools is broken into four potential scenarios.

For example, if the local public health department has confirmed two or more community transmission cases, but students or staff have not tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Public Health says staff with any fever or respiratory infection symptoms should not come to work. The CDPH also says schools should consider alternatives to large gatherings, such as assemblies, under this scenario.

washing hands

Health experts continue to reinforce common-sense preventative measures, such as frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with those who are sick and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.

If one student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and has exposed others at the school, CDPH recommends that school administrators should work in consultation with the local health department to determine if a school closure is warranted and for what length of time.

Orange County currently has one confirmed COVID-19 case — a man in his 50s who has recovered — and three “presumptive positive” cases that are pending confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All of these cases are travel-related, meaning there’s still no evidence of community transmission locally.

In areas without community transmission, the state says schools and districts should be reviewing and updating their comprehensive school safety plans, including continuity plans for teaching and learning if students are absent from school. Based on federal guidelines, students, teachers or staff who have traveled to countries with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice — currently China, Iran, Italy and South Korea — should stay home from school for 14 days from the time of their last exposure.

Large public gatherings

State officials also provided new guidance for mass gatherings and public events Saturday.

In counties with evidence of community transmission, organizers should anticipate that some non-essential events may need to be modified — such as making the event a webinar — canceled or postponed. Organizers should consider canceling non-essential events primarily attended by older adults and people with chronic medical conditions who are at higher risk for severe illness.

“We understand Californians are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and remind them that the best way to protect yourself and others is by washing your hands, covering your sneeze or cough, staying away from others who are sick, and staying home if you are sick,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health and state health officer. “This new guidance is designed to help California improve preparation and prevention.” 

You can read the complete updated guidance here:

The California Department of Education and the state’s health department urge all schools to help prevent discrimination and stigmatization by ensuring the privacy of students and staff.

For more information about Orange County’s efforts to prevent and prepare for COVID-19, go to www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus.

***

Updated at 10:21 a.m. on March 7, 2020

CDC expands self-quarantine advisory to additional countries

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded its self-quarantine advisory to additional countries.

Recent travelers to countries with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice — currently China, Iran, Italy and South Korea — are urged to stay home from work and school and take social distancing precautions for 14 days from the time they left.

Here are the steps recommended by the CDC for those returning from Level 3 countries:

  • Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever. Also watch for cough or trouble breathing.
  • Stay home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school for this 14-day period. Discuss your work situation with your employer before returning to work.
  • Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares during the time you are practicing social distancing.
  • Avoid crowded places (such as shopping centers and movie theaters) and limit your activities in public.
  • Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters).

The CDC has previously stated that students under self-quarantine should be excused from school during this period.

More information is available at: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/after-travel-precautions.html.

***

Updated at 5:04 p.m. on March 6, 2020

Long before the current coronavirus, OCDE and the OC Health Care Agency developed a pandemic plan

This coronavirus may be novel, but the Orange County Department of Education has long had a plan in place for dealing with a potential pandemic.

Pandemic Influenza School Planning Workbook

About 10 years ago, OCDE and the Orange County Health Care Agency worked together to develop the Pandemic Influenza School Planning Workbook For Orange County Schools. The 60-page manual for schools and districts was designed to provide general guidance in the event of an influenza pandemic, but it’s adaptable to COVID-19 and other emergency scenarios.

The workbook outlines roles, responsibilities and considerations to keep students and employees safe — and to ensure the continuity of educational and operational services. It includes worksheets, checklists and sample letters.

“The safety and well-being of students and staff has always been the top priority of the Orange County Department of Education, which works year-round to bolster emergency preparedness plans in collaboration with districts and their leadership,” County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares said Friday.

The risk to the general public remains low in Orange County, which has one confirmed case of COVID-19 — a man in his 50s who has since recovered — and two “presumptive positive” cases that are pending confirmation from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The HCA says it’s following up directly with all individuals who have had close contact.

“This remains a rapidly evolving situation, and there is still a lot we still don’t know, including how and when Orange County may be impacted,” Mijares said. “But our strong regional partnerships and proactive planning ensure we are in a state of readiness moving forward.”

***

Updated at 4:42 p.m. on March 5, 2020

OC Health Care Agency creates kid-friendly posters

Coronavirus flier for kids

Orange County Health Care Agency officials have created kid-friendly coronavirus fliers that can be downloaded and printed in multiple sizes for homes and schools.

With a cast of cartoon animals, the posters emphasize that the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people, with symptoms that may include coughing, sneezing, runny noses, fever and shortness of breath.

They go on to list common-sense preventative measures such as frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with those who are sick and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.

You can download the English and Spanish versions here:

Last week, an NPR education reporter published this comic for kids to explain what the coronavirus is and how to stop it from spreading after consulting with health and child experts.

For more information on COVID-19 in Orange County, along with additional fliers and graphics in multiple languages, visit www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus.

***

Updated at 9:40 a.m. on March 5, 2020

Rumor alert: Local health officials are not advising schools to cancel field trips

The Orange County Health Care Agency tweeted on Thursday that there are no recommendations for canceling or avoiding public events — including field trips — in Orange or Los Angeles counties.

At the state level, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency on Wednesday to make additional resources available, formalize emergency actions and help state agencies prepare for the broader spread of COVID-19.

The proclamation comes as the number of positive cases continues to rise, and it follows the first coronavirus-related fatality in the state. A man from Placerville County died after falling ill with the virus on a cruise ship.

“The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Gov. Newsom said. “This emergency proclamation will help the state further prepare our communities and our health care system in the event it spreads more broadly.”

Orange County has one confirmed case of COVID-19 — a man in his 50s who has since recovered — and two “presumptive positive” cases are pending confirmation from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The HCA said it is following up directly with all individuals who have had close contact.

***

Updated at 5:29 p.m. on March 3, 2020

OC Health Care Agency offers guidance to schools, announces two more possible COVID-19 cases in Orange County

After holding a conference call with local schools and districts, the Orange County Health Care Agency on Tuesday announced that its Public Health Laboratory had found two additional “presumptive positive” cases of COVID-19.

They include a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s who recently traveled to “countries with widespread transmission.” The local agency is following up with anyone who has had close contact with either person.

The HCA said it is sending its testing samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If confirmed, that would bring the total number of cases in Orange County to three. A man in his 50s has already recovered from the infection.

“The more you look for something, the more likely you are to find it,” County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said. “Now that our Public Health Laboratory is able to perform COVID-19 testing, we expect to see more cases here in Orange County.”

Earlier that afternoon, HCA officials held a conference call with local school officials to provide an update on the novel coronavirus and general guidance for Orange County’s campuses.

OC Health Care Agency building front

Dr. Quick said that if any additional cases are found with a connection to an Orange County school, the Health Care Agency will immediately reach out to that school and district to provide guidance.

“If there is anything that a school district or individual school needs to take action on, you will be hearing from us,” she said.

The agency said it is not asking residents to take social distancing measures, such as avoiding public gatherings. Schools should not exclude any students out of fear, she said.

Per CDC guidelines, the 14-day self-quarantine applies only to travelers returning to the United States from mainland China.

According to the CDC, limited reporting data suggests that children with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have generally had mild symptoms. Though severe complications have been reported, “they appear to be uncommon.”

“From all appearances this is a disease that kids are not getting severely ill from,” Quick said.

The latest school guidance from the CDC encourages school administrators to review and update their emergency plans in collaboration with local health departments and other partners. Plans should include strategies to reduce the spread of a wide variety of infectious diseases, such as seasonal influenza.

Local health officials continued to emphasize common-sense steps to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, including:

    • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
    • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
    • Staying home when you are sick
    • Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash
    • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
    • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing (If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.)

***

Updated at 4:18 p.m. on March 1, 2020

No need to avoid public events, local health officials say

The Orange County Health Care Agency affirmed over the weekend that it is not advising OC residents to avoid —  or hosts to cancel — public events due to concerns related to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

That guidance is in line with what federal and state officials are saying.

“If that changes, you’ll hear from us,” the county agency posted on Twitter. “Staying home because you’re coughing or sneezing, however, is just good common sense.”

Orange County has just one confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus, and that patient — a man in his 50s — has recovered.

Meanwhile, the HCA announced this weekend that it is now able to test for potential cases. Based on a criteria established by the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency will test:

  • those with a fever or lower respiratory illness who had close contact with a COVID-19 case within 14 days of the onset of symptoms
  • those with a fever and lower respiratory illness requiring hospitalization with a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of symptom onset
  • and those with fever and severe respiratory illness requiring hospitalization that is otherwise unexplained.

The HCA tweeted on Sunday that it has already had hundreds of consultations with physicians asking whether specific patients qualify for testing.

“The majority of patients have not met CDC criteria,” the HCA said.

Testing is arranged through each individual’s health care provider and/or hospital. Walk-ups to the HCA lab will not be accommodated.

The CDC continues to advise regular preventative measures to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including hand-washing and covering up coughs and sneezes.

***

Updated at 4:01 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2020

Health Care Agency declares emergency; still only one confirmed case in OC

In response to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and the likelihood of additional cases in Orange County, the county’s top health official on Wednesday declared a health emergency.

Orange County still has just one confirmed case — a man in his 50s who has since recovered. Nevertheless, County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick signed a local health emergency declaration one day after the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it anticipated more U.S. cases.

“This is part of broader preparedness efforts and will help ensure our response remains flexible and can evolve as the situation does,” the Orange County Health Care Agency announced via Twitter.

The California Department of Education said Wednesday it was monitoring the situation and working closely with agency partners. State officials referred to previous guidance from the California Department of Public Health and encouraged school districts to identify plans and protocols for communicating with families, adding that districts should consider how they might support teaching and learning in the event of a school closure.

“Any decisions to close schools as a result of the coronavirus would be made by individual LEAs (school districts) and their respective county health agencies,” the CDE wrote in an email. “LEAs should consider these factors, in addition to any other relevant local conditions or concerns, when deciding to close a school.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health continue to post updates about the coronavirus on their websites.

***

Updated at 1:50 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2020

Coronavirus risk to general public in U.S. remains low, but more cases are expected

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the immediate risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus remains low for Americans, but more cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including in the United States.

“Global efforts at this time are focused concurrently on containing spread of this virus and mitigating the impact of this virus,” the CDC says on its website. “The federal government is working closely with state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, as well as public health partners, to respond to this public health threat.”

Meanwhile, the California Department of Public Health, in guidance issued to schools and districts, says travelers from mainland China who arrive in the United States should stay home from school for 14 days as a precaution — beginning the day after they left China.

“Please note that there have been reports of students and others being stigmatized,” the CDPH guidance says. “We urge schools to ensure students’ and staffs’ privacy to help prevent discrimination.”

The state’s Public Health Department encourages students, parents and staff to continue taking everyday preventive actions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, including:

  • Staying home when sick
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Covering coughs with a sleeve or tissue
  • Having ample tissues within easy reach, as well as no-touch trash cans
  • Routinely cleaning frequently touched surfaces
  • Separating sick students and staff from others until they can go home

***

Updated at 2:19 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2020

OC Health Care Agency updates guidance for schools and colleges

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Friday updated its guidance for schools, colleges and universities, and officials have posted new recommendations specific to preschools and childcare facilities.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking healthy travelers returning from China to self-quarantine for 14 days, noting that students who self-quarantine should be excused from school during this period.

The Health Care Agency says it is contacting individuals who meet that criteria to provide instructions for self-quarantine upon their return. HCA officials say they will also contact them at the end of their quarantine period.

Those identified at the highest risk of developing illness are being monitored by federal, state and/or local public health officials, according to the HCA’s guidance. If the high-risk person being monitored is a student, the HCA will exclude them from school for 14 days from their last exposure and will communicate with the school, college or university to ensure the student is excluded for the identified period.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and as guidance on this subject changes, the HCA will provide updates,” the agency says.

The CDC is not currently recommending that masks be mandated for staff or students. It does, however, acknowledge that the wearing of masks is common in many countries, saying individuals should exercise their own discretion in their use.

The guidance adds that “face masks are most useful for preventing disease spread when they are worn by people who have symptoms. This is why people are asked to wear a mask at doctors’ offices and hospitals if they are coughing or sneezing. As always, the HCA recommends that persons who are ill stay home to limit transmission of all viruses.”

For more information, visit www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus.

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Updated at 4:15 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2020

OC Health Care Agency puts out coronavirus infographic

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Monday published a new infographic with some basic facts about the novel coronavirus.

The one-pager, which can be downloaded as a PDF here, explains how it’s spread, what symptoms are associated with the illness, and what steps you can take to protect yourself from airborne respiratory diseases.

Novel coronavirus infographic

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Updated at 8:08 p.m. on Feb. 1, 2020

Health Care Agency issues guidance for schools, colleges and universities

A day after federal officials declared the novel coronavirus a public health emergency in the U.S., the Orange County Health Care Agency has issued interim guidance for schools, colleges and universities.

As part of the emergency declaration, travelers returning from China will face a health screening and up to two weeks of monitored self-quarantine to ensure they pose no health risk. The HCA says students who self-quarantine should be excused from school during this period.

Screenshot of Health Care Agency guidance

School nurses and student health centers should follow standard environmental infection control procedures for healthcare settings, according to the agency. If students report symptoms, school officials should ask if they have recently traveled to China.

Orange County continues to have only one confirmed case of novel coronavirus — a man in his 50s has been isolated and is in good condition — and there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission locally. Health Care Agency officials say the risk to the public in the county and throughout the United States remains low.

The HCA issued its guidance for schools and other educational settings on Saturday evening. Along with general information on the novel coronavirus, the five-page document outlines the steps the agency is taking to ensure the safety of residents and health care workers and offers strategies to help prevent the spread of respiratory illness.

You can download the HCA’s guidance for schools, colleges and universities by clicking on the graphic above or the link below:

School Guidance February 1, 2020

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Updated at 2:28 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2020

CDC not recommending surgical masks for the public

Reflecting concerns about the coronavirus outbreak that started in China, surgical masks are increasingly appearing on school campuses and have become popular enough in the U.S. that some retailers are selling out.

But are surgical masks effective?

While experts say there’s not really any harm in wearing them, they are not considered an effective way for asymptomatic people to avoid influenza and other airborne respiratory viruses, says Pamela Kahn, OCDE’s coordinator of Health and Wellness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a surgical mask, unlike the tight-fitting N95 respirator worn by physicians, “does not provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection.”

The CDC isn’t recommending wearing masks in public. But officials say Americans should frequently and thoroughly wash their hands, cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home if they experience symptoms commonly associated with the flu. In fact, here are some proven ways to help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses.

For more information, check out the OC Health Care Agency’s list of frequently asked questions about the novel coronavirus.

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Updated at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2020

Agencies recommend regular flu prevention measures

Because the novel coronavirus that originated in China has so far not been found to be spreading from person to person in the United States, no additional precautions are recommended for the general public, County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said Monday in a video statement.

“Our residents should go about their daily lives with no changes to planned activities,” Dr. Quick said.

The OC Health Care Agency said it will issue new guidance should circumstances change. In the meantime, the CDC continues to advise regular preventative measures to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including hand-washing and covering up coughs and sneezes.

For those who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China and feel sick, the HCA website advises to avoid contact with others and seek medical care immediately. Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, patients should call ahead and tell the medical staff about their recent travel and symptoms.

Here’s Dr. Quick’s full statement:

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Updated at 9 a.m. on Jan. 27, 2020

Local coronavirus case confirmed; public remains at low risk

The Orange County Health Care Agency has issued an update on the novel coronavirus outbreak that originated in China.

The agency confirmed over the weekend that a man in his 50s had tested positive for the virus in Orange County after traveling to Wuhan, China. There is no evidence that person-to-person transmission has occurred within the county, and HCA officials say the risk of infection to the public in Orange County is low.

“If you have not been to Wuhan, China, or been in close contact with someone who has been to Wuhan and is sick, your risk is very low,” the HCA says on its website.

Orange County Health Care Agency buildingSimilar guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that people who have casual contact with a case — examples include being in the same grocery store or movie theater — are at minimal risk of developing infection.

Meanwhile, there are proven ways to stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses, including influenza.

The HCA said it provided guidance to the traveler upon his arrival to reduce exposure to the public while they awaited lab results from the CDC. The man is currently in good condition at a local hospital, where he is being treated in isolation.

The California Department of Public Health says another case has been confirmed in Los Angeles County. No others have been identified in California.

“The California Department of Public Health has been preparing for this situation by working closely with local health departments and health care providers,” said CDPH Director and State Health Officer Dr. Sonia Angell.

“We are supporting ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency to respond to these cases, and will continue working with our partners to monitor for any additional cases that may occur in California, to ensure that persons can be safely and effectively evaluated for this novel virus, and to protect the health of the people of California,” Angell said.

The first known cases of 2019-nCoV — short for “2019 novel coronavirus” — were reported in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS. A novel coronavirus — often shown as “nCoV” — is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

In consultation with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, the HCA said it was following up directly with all individuals who have had close contact with the local case and are at risk of infection.

We’ll continue to post as we hear more. For the latest updates, visit www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus.