COVID-19 update: OC Health Care Agency issues statement on elementary waiver process

OCDE and local school districts continue to track the latest developments related to COVID-19 while following guidance from the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency.

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

LATEST UPDATES

Updated at 7:00 p.m. on August 4, 2020

OC Health Care Agency issues statement on elementary waiver process; technical issues with state data collection system

The acting county health officer on Monday afternoon issued a letter to district and school officials outlining the process for submitting an elementary school waiver to the OCHCA.

In a statement released Monday evening, Dr. Clayton Chau, who also serves as director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, noted that the County of Orange is currently accepting waiver applications even though the state’s communicable data collection system, CalREDI, is experiencing technical issues.

“Schools can prepare their submissions for consideration while the CalREDIE data issue is being addressed at the State level,” said Chau. “Consultations between the County Health Officer and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) can occur once the electronic lab reporting system is resolved with CalREDIE.”

Detailed information on how to submit a waiver to the OC Health Officer can be found on the OCHCA’s website.

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Updated at 9:57 a.m. on August 4, 2020

State releases new guidance for elementary school waiver process and youth sports

California public health officials on Monday night released highly anticipated new guidance on the elementary school waiver process that could allow some schools located in counties on the state’s monitoring list to reopen for in-person instruction.

The process allows school officials to request for a waiver for grades TK-6 if they can fulfill certain criteria, such as following public health guidelines within the classroom, guaranteeing small cohort instruction, consulting with school labor unions and community members and getting approval from the local health officer.

According to the new state guidance, local health officers can only grant a waiver after considering local COVID-19 data and consulting with the California Department of Public Health. Additional information and criteria for the waiver application process can be found in this memo from the CDHP.

The CDHP also announced updated guidance for youth sports and physical education. Under the new guidance, youth sports will only be permitted when physical distancing of at least six feet between participants can be maintained and stable classes or cohorts can be established. Further guidance from the CDHP related to school activities can be viewed in the updated guidance for schools and school-based programs document.

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Updated at 6:47 p.m. on July 30, 2020

Health Care Agency launches ‘Face, Hands and Feet’ campaign encouraging OC residents to protect one another

The OC Health Care Agency on Thursday announced a new advertising and outreach campaign encouraging residents to slow the spread of COVID-19 by protecting themselves and their fellow community members.

Taking cues from the “stop, drop and roll” fire safety slogan, the campaign aims to drive home the importance of “Face, Hands and Feet” — as in wear a face covering, wash hands frequently, and stay 6 feet apart.

Officials say Face, Hands and Feet messaging will target harder-to-reach communities and residents for whom English is not their first language, making its way to outdoor boards, transit shelters, and digital and social advertising. There will also be an intensive community outreach plan that includes a partnership with Latino Health Access to employ the promotora model to reach those in the Hispanic and Latinx communities, which have been hit hardest by the coronavirus.

The campaign will similarly focus efforts on Black residents, as well as families of Vietnamese, Filipino and Asian Pacific Islander descent.

“I am so pleased that we are able to get out there with this really important health safety message thanks to CARES Act funding,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the OC Health Care Agency and the county’s acting health officer. “It’s a critical reminder that we do have some control over this virus — if we take important precautions to help stop it.”

Toolkits will be available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Tagalog. You can find additional resources and learn more at www.ochealthinfo.com/protecteachother.

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Updated at 5:07 p.m. on July 30, 2020

Foundation to offer free meals in Santa Ana, Costa Mesa on Saturday, Aug. 1

The Power of One Foundation (POOF) plans to host drive-through food distributions on Saturday, Aug. 1 at MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana and the OC Fair & Events Center in Costa Mesa. Here are the details:

  • MainPlace Mall, 2800 N. Main St., Santa Ana, 8-10 a.m.; the line begins at MainPlace Drive and Main Street beginning at 7 a.m.
  • OC Fair & Events Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. (noon); the line begins on Fairview Boulevard at Gate 3 beginning at 6 a.m.

Please stay in your car with the windows rolled up when receiving food. Make sure your vehicle trunk is empty so food can be placed in it.

For more information on POOF food events, visit www.powerofonefoundation.org.

Comida Gratis el Sábado 1 de Agosto en MainPlace Mall y OC Fair

The Power of One Foundation (POOF) está ofreciendo distribuciones gratuitas de alimentos en carro el sábado 1 de agosto en MainPlace Mall en Santa Ana y OC Fair & Events Center en Costa Mesa. Aquí están los detalles:

  • MainPlace Mall, 2800 N. Main St., Santa Ana, 8-10 a.m.; la línea comienza en MainPlace Drive y Main Street a partir de las 7 a.m.
  • OC Fair & Events Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, de las 8 a.m. a las 12 p.m. (mediodía); la línea comienza en Fairview Boulevard en la Entrada 3 (Gate 3) a partir de las 6 a.m.

Por favor, quédese en su automóvil con las ventanas cerradas cuando reciba alimentos. Asegúrese de que el baúl de su vehículo esté vacío para que se puedan colocar alimentos adentro.

Para más información sobre los eventos de comida de POOF, visite www.powerofonefoundation.org.

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Updated at 1:50 p.m. on July 20, 2020

CIF Southern Section announces two-season calendar set to start in December

The CIF, which governs high school athletics in California, announced Monday its new high school sports schedule for the 2020-21 school year.

The three traditional high school sports seasons — fall, winter and spring — are now scheduled to be played between December and June and will be condensed into two seasons. But Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod, speaking during an afternoon news conference, noted that it will be up to local and state health authorities to determine when it will be safe to return students to campus.

The CIF is composed of 10 sections, and all 10 sections will decide on their own dates for first contests and championships for each of their sports. According to an article in the Orange County Register, “the two-season model was a decision made in collaboration with all 10 section offices, including the CIF-SS office.”

In a memo issued to local school districts on Monday, July 20, Commissioner Wigod released calendar dates with sports starting as early as December and high school football beginning in January.

Fall sports will include: football, boys and girls water polo, volleyball and cross country as well as field hockey, competitive cheer and gymnastics. Springs sports will include: baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer, lacrosse, swimming and diving, track and field, wrestling, tennis, golf and competitive sports cheer.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the spring sports season for all sports in March and the California Department of Public Health recently confirmed that youth sports, including conditioning activities associated with high school athletic programs, are not yet permitted under the agency’s current guidance.

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Updated at 2:16 p.m. on July 17, 2020

OC public and private schools will start the year with distance learning under gov’s mandate

If Orange County remains on a state watch list for its COVID-19 rates, local campuses can expect to start the 2020-21 school year with distance learning under a mandate announced Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

At a highly anticipated afternoon briefing, Newsom issued sweeping new directives for public and private schools, including guidance on distance learning, face coverings, coronavirus testing, and how to reopen and close schools in the event of an outbreak.

But for campuses in more than 30 counties that are currently on California’s monitoring list based on their COVID-19 rates — Orange County is among them — the governor said remote learning will have to take the place of in-person instruction, which can resume when those counties are off the list for two weeks.

“The governor has made it clear what will need to happen to resume in-person learning, as well as the steps we must take to keep our students, staff and families safe when we do come back together,” Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares said. “Our department will do everything in its power to support robust distancing learning in Orange County. At the same time, we must also unite as a community and do our part to reduce transmission of this dangerous virus, including practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings in public.”

The OCDE Newsroom has a breakdown of the governor’s mandate.

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Updated at 11:20 a.m. on July 15, 2020

OCDE reopening recommendations promote social distancing, face coverings

Earlier this week, four members of the county Board of Education voted to approve a white paper with reopening recommendations that contradicted guidance from the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) and the California Department of Public Health.

For schools that plan on resuming in-person instruction in the fall, OCDE and the state have promoted social distancing measures and face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained. But it is ultimately up to school districts to develop and implement their own reopening plans.

In response to the county board’s non-binding vote, Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares sought to clarify any confusion over the role of the OC Board of Education and the Orange County Department of Education.

“OCDE and my office have worked with local school district leaders to develop “Orange County Together: A guide to safely reopening schools in the COVID-19 era,” Mijares said. “This resource, available on our website, is in alignment with the California Department of Public Health, which stresses the importance of social distancing and face coverings when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. The five-member OC Board of Education, which has separate responsibilities, hosted its meeting on July 13 to discuss a white paper with alternative recommendations.”

“The board majority’s recommendations are not binding,” the superintendent said. “Locally elected school boards and superintendents will approve and implement plans specific to their districts based on the needs of their schools and communities. OCDE is working to support districts in that effort, and we remain 100 percent committed to following and sharing the guidance of the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency.”

OCDE directly serves some of the county’s most vulnerable student populations, and the department supports local school districts with services necessary for their operations, including high-speed internet access and security, professional development, legal and fiscal guidance, payroll services and student enrichment.

The OC Board of Ed comprises five trustees who are elected by voters to four-year terms. They have their own set of responsibilities, including approving charter schools and hearing interdistrict transfer and expulsion appeals. The board also approves OCDE’s annual budget.

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Updated at 2:40 p.m. on July 8, 2020

CDC to issue additional guidelines for reopening schools

During a media briefing this morning, Vice President Mike Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be issuing new guidance and a set of tools to provide “more clarity” on how to safely reopen schools in the fall.

Under current CDC guidance, it is recommended that students and teachers wear face coverings whenever feasible, spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.

It has been reported that new federal guidelines will include some of those issued by the CDC in May as well as recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advocates for in-person learning in the fall.

The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, stated the agency’s guidelines serve as recommendations, and he urged schools to find ways to reopen while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

“I want to make it very clear that what is not the intent of CDC’s guidelines is to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed,” Dr. Redfield said. “We are prepared to work with each school to help them use the different strategies that we proposed that help do this safely so they come up with the optimal strategy for those schools.”

In June, OCDE and school district leaders from Orange County issued recommendations for resuming in-person instruction complemented by online learning. Orange County Together: A guide to safely reopening schools in the COVID-19 era is based on guidance from the California Department of Public Health and has been approved by Orange County’s health officer.

Local districts are currently in the process of crafting their reopening plans, and while OCDE can offer recommendations to reopen schools consistent with federal and state guidelines, it is ultimately up to each individual school district to create their own plan based on what is best for their students, staff and communities.

Stay tuned for additional updates.

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Updated at 11:56 a.m. on July 7, 2020

State health department confirms youth sports not yet permitted

The California Department of Public Health has confirmed that youth sports, including conditioning activities associated with high school athletic programs, are not yet permitted under the agency’s current guidance.

Following questions from local school districts, and in response to a news story from Sacramento, OCDE contacted state health officials this week to get clarification on whether recreational team sports were allowed. Specifically, there were questions over whether youth sports were covered by the industry guidance for day camps.

CDPH officials stated unequivocally that youth sports were not currently permitted, adding that guidance would be released at some point in the future.

In an advisory issued to local superintendents on July 6, OCDE General Counsel Jeff Riel advised school districts to hold off on resuming their summer youth sports programs until there was “specific guidance provided by CDPH regarding recreational team sports or school-based sports.”

“Once statewide guidance is released, we will collectively work with the local public health officer to consider local community conditions when implementing the statewide guidance,” Riel wrote.

The Orange County Department of Education does not have oversight of youth sports or athletic programs, but OCDE often assists local districts with legal clarifications and guidance.

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Updated at 8:20 a.m. on July 2, 2020

Deadline extended for local families to apply for food and grocery benefits

The application deadline has been extended for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT, which helps struggling households pay for food and groceries.

Families now have until July 15 to receive up to $365 per eligible child by applying online at https://ca.p-ebt.org/en/.

As we shared back in April, the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program is administered by the California Department of Social Services to assist students whose campuses were closed during the pandemic. Children who would otherwise qualify for free and reduced-price meals at their schools are eligible.

P-EBT cards can be used just like debit cards, and students who receive benefits can still receive grab-and-go meals at COVID-19 emergency sites.

If you already have a card or have applied online, officials say there’s no need to apply again. Note that some recipients will not get their cards until August due to application processing and mail delays.

For the 2019-20 school year, California had approximately 3.9 million children eligible for free and reduced-priced lunches, or about 63 percent of public school students.

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Updated at 4:46 p.m. on July 1, 2020

Governor orders new restrictions on indoor activities for 19 counties

Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered a number of counties — including Orange County — to suspend indoor operations of restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums and card rooms for at least three weeks.

California is home to 58 counties, but the new order applies specifically to 19 that have been on a monitoring list for at least three consecutive days based on their rising COVID-19 rates. Newsom said the restrictions are needed to stop the spread of the virus and reduce hospitalizations.

“This doesn’t mean restaurants are shut down,” the governor said during his daily briefing. “It means that we’re trying to take the activities, as many activities as we can — these mixed activities, these concentrated activities — and move them outdoors, which is a way of mitigating the spread of this virus.”

Meanwhile, Orange County’s Health Officer ordered all bars closed effective Thursday, July 2. The order applies to establishments that don’t offer sit-down, dine-in meals. Those that do must comply with the latest guidance for restaurants.

County-operated beaches and many city beaches in Orange County have also announced closures during the Fourth of July weekend. Some state beaches will remain open but their parking lots will be closed to visitors.

With more than 230,000 tests taken, Orange County has reported 13,843 COVID-19 cases and 340 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus. More than 500 patients are currently hospitalized with the illness, including 176 who are in intensive care units.

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Updated at 4:42 p.m. on June 19, 2020

‘Orange County Together’ resource offers local guidance for reopening schools

Representatives from OCDE and school districts across the county have released local recommendations for reopening more than 600 schools.

“Orange County Together: A guide to safely reopening schools in the COVID-19 era” is a web-based resource developed by educational leaders and public health experts using guidance from the California Department of Public Health. It was approved by the Orange County Health Officer on June 12 and will be updated as new information is presented.

As we’ve said previously, elected school boards and their superintendents will ultimately approve and implement plans specific to their districts. The guide is intended to help make decisions at the local level.

With more than 202,000 tests administered, Orange County had documented 9,576 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, with 336 patients currently hospitalized and 142 in intensive care units. Seven new deaths were attributed to the disease caused by the coronavirus, bringing the total to 288.

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Updated at 12:42 p.m. on June 18, 2020

Governor: Californians must wear face coverings in public spaces

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that Californians are now required to wear face coverings in public spaces and other settings considered high-risk.

The order, which includes some limited exceptions, is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 and would supersede county-level guidance. It comes one week after local health officials said masks were strongly recommended but not required.

“Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” Newsom said. “They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.”

According to a statement from the California Department of Public Health, state residents must wear face coverings when they are in the following high-risk situations:

  • Inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space
  • Obtaining services from the healthcare sector in settings including, but not limited to, a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician or dental office, veterinary clinic, or blood bank
  • Waiting for or riding on public transportation or paratransit or while in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle
  • Engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site, when interacting in-person with any member of the public; working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time; working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others; working in or walking through common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and parking facilities; in any room or enclosed area where other people (except for members of the person’s own household or residence) are present when unable to physically distance
  • Driving or operating any public transportation or paratransit vehicle, taxi, or private car service or ride-sharing vehicle when passengers are present. When no passengers are present, face coverings are strongly recommended
  • While outdoors in public spaces when maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet from persons who are not members of the same household or residence is not feasible

Exceptions to the governor’s order include children age 2 and under, those with certain medical conditions, and those for whom face coverings would pose a workplace risk as determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

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Updated at 12:37 p.m. on June 15, 2020

OCDE podcasts examine school funding in the wake of COVID-19

Two new episodes of OCDE’s The Deeper Learning Podcast ask a pair of school funding experts to weigh in on how COVID-19 will impact funding for K-12 schools in California.

The pandemic has cratered the state’s tax base, resulting in a shortfall of $54 billion after years of positive projections. Meanwhile, new investments will be needed to accommodate social distancing on school campuses.

Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares hosts the episodes, which feature Mike Fine, CEO of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, and Dr. Molly McGee Hewitt, CEO and executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials.

To listen, visit deeperlearning.ocde.us, or subscribe to The Deeper Learning Podcast on iTunes.

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Updated at 7:00 p.m. on June 11, 2020

Face coverings no longer required in OC, but they’re strongly recommended

Orange County health officials said Thursday that face coverings in public will no longer be required for those unable to socially distance.

Masks will, however, be strongly recommended for residents who are outside their homes and unable to maintain six feet of separation with others.

“This change ensures the OC Health Care Agency is acting consistently with our partners at the California Department of Public Health and is based on Orange County’s measures against state-mandated COVID-19 metrics,” acting County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said in a statement. “That said, I stand with public health experts and believe strongly that face coverings help slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”

Chau, who serves as the agency’s director, has taken over the responsibilities of Dr. Nichole Quick, who resigned earlier this week.

Also Thursday, the Health Care Agency issued an order that allows the reopening of movie theaters, family entertainment centers, bars, wineries, zoos, museums, community pools and other businesses. That change takes effect, Friday, June 12.

With more than 172,000 tests administered, Orange County has documented 7,987 COVID-19 cases to date, with 294 patients hospitalized and 142 in intensive care units. More than 200 deaths have been attributed to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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Updated at 3:43 p.m. on June 8, 2020

California Department of Ed releases recommendations for reopening schools

The state Department of Education on Monday published its guidance for reopening. schools safely across California.

Introduced by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, “Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools” includes checklists, questions for consideration and examples of best practices that can be discussed at the local level.

“We know that guidance is only as good as its implementation,” Thurmond said, “so think of this as the beginning of the conversation — not the end.”

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Updated at 4:53 p.m. on June 5, 2020

State health department posts interim guidance for schools, childcare

Three days before the state Department of Education is set to release recommendations for reopening K-12 campuses, the California Department of Public Health has released interim guidance for schools and school–based programs.

The CDPH on Friday also posted guidance for day camps, casinos, film and television production and professional sports.

Officials said the school guidance is based on the best available public health data, along with international best practices and the practical realities of managing school operations. The guidance must be implemented with the approval of each county’s health officer following a review of local COVID-19 data and capacities.

“As the science evolves and the school year draws closer, the guidance will be updated based on the most current information and the progress of the disease in California,” says a CDPH news release.

To support the safe reopening of schools, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Department of General Services plans to assist schools and childcare facilities in obtaining personal protective equipment and other supplies.

The California Department of Education is expected to issue its guidance on Monday. OCDE is also drafting local recommendations with Orange County school district leaders and health experts.

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Updated at 1:05 p.m. on June 5, 2020

State schools chief to release guidance for reopening schools

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond on Monday plans to release the California Department of Education’s official recommendations for safely reopening schools.

“Stronger Together: A Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Public Schools” will serve as a road map for educators as they work with their local public health officials and school communities to navigate next steps, the department said Friday.

The document will include recommendations for face coverings, physical distancing, and symptom-screening to help schools plan for in-person instruction and distance learning in the fall. It will also offer considerations for designing high-quality and equitable instructional practices.

Thurmond and CDE leaders are expected to walk through the guidance and answer questions during a news conference that can be viewed starting at 11:15 a.m. on Monday on Facebook Live.

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Updated at 2:49 p.m. on May 23, 2020

More businesses get the green light as OC advances to stage 2 of state recovery plan

In-person dining at restaurants and retail shopping have been allowed to reopen in Orange County with modifications to keep customers and employees safe.

Local officials announced Saturday that California had approved the county’s plan to accelerate into stage two of the state’s recovery plan after meeting some of the required metrics. Manufacturing, offices where telework isn’t feasible and other service-oriented businesses were also approved to resume operations.

The OC Health Care Agency, which issued a new order on Saturday, is urging businesses to follow the state guidance relevant to their industry sectors and recommending the following steps:

  • Perform a detailed risk assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan
  • Train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if they have them
  • Implement individual control measures and screenings
  • Implement disinfecting protocols
  • Implement physical distancing guidelines

“While we understand that many businesses want to reopen quickly, we must ensure that it’s done in a safe manner,” First District Supervisor Andrew Do said in a news release. “Having the proper guidance documentation and safety precautions are important to ensure that Orange County can continue on its path to more fully open all sectors of our economy.”

A number of businesses and public gathering spots aren’t yet allowed to open, including hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, nightclubs, movie theaters, gallery spaces, public pools, playgrounds and theme parks.

You can find a list of frequently asked questions and the OC Health Officers’ latest orders on this county webpage.

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Updated at 1:07 p.m. on May 21, 2020

State superintendent hosts virtual discussion on reopening schools

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond on Thursday expressed solidarity with educational leaders who say they can’t slash budgets and make the investments necessary to promote safe social distancing when schools reopen.

“We hear you loud and clear, and we agree with you that we cannot ask you to do more with less,” Thurmond said.

Those considerations will be part of the legislative deliberations that will shape California’s spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, he said, adding that federal funding will also be necessary.

“Clearly we need the assistance of the federal government,” Thurmond said.

Thursday’s virtual seminar provided an opportunity for the state superintendent to discuss the importance of reopening schools safely and affirm that guidance from the California Department of Education was coming soon. District leaders from across the state were also invited to share some of their initial plans for reopening campuses.

The webinar can be viewed on CDE’s Facebook page.

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Updated at 11:52 a.m. on May 20, 2020

Fliers in multiple languages provide guidance for getting tested at no cost

The Orange County Health Care Agency has issued fliers in multiple languages encouraging anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested — and letting them know they can do so at no charge.

You can find the fliers here:

English | Arabic | Chinese | Farsi | Korean | Spanish | Taiwanese | Vietnamese

Symptoms of the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus include coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, as well as fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headaches, sore throat, and a loss of taste or smell.

If you are experiencing any of these, the OC Health Care Agency urges you to call your healthcare provider if you have one and isolate yourself from others as soon as possible.

Same-day or next-day appointments are usually available, but residents must call first to assure eligibility and availability of testing. You can find a continually updated list of test sites, with information on scheduling and the appointment process, at ochealthinfo.com/covidtest. Or call the HCA’s Health Referral Line at 800-564-8448.

Other developments this week:

  • If you caught the star-studded “Graduate Together” event that streamed live and aired over four networks this weekend, you know that Santa Ana High valedictorian Priscilla Arceo was tapped to speak on behalf of her fellow 2020 graduates. Arceo shared some of her own challenges, motivations and aspirations for the future.

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Updated at 12:35 p.m. on May 15, 2020

Four new testing sites increase capacity in underserved communities

As part of a state plan to expand COVID-19 testing in underserved communities, the OC Health Care Agency has teamed with the California Department of Public Health to launch four new testing sites in the cities of Buena Park, Orange, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano.

The sites were made possible through a partnership with OptumServe, which works to assist government agencies with health services needs. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently said California would establish an additional 80 community testing sites, targeting communities of need.

“These new test sites build upon our ongoing efforts to expand appropriate testing availability for Orange County residents while helping the state to meet its testing goals,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, County Health Officer.

Officials said locations were identified by looking at areas where Californians had to travel between 30 and 60 minutes to reach existing test sites. This information was cross-referenced with underserved populations to address known disparities and median income.

For more information on testing criteria and to schedule an appointment, visit www.ochealthinfo.com/covidtest.

Other developments:

  • Just months after projecting a surplus of $5.6 billion, Gov. Gavin Newsom walked through his plans to close a $54 billion shortfall on Thursday. Education cuts would be mitigated by rainy day funds, deferrals, federal spending, flexibilities and the reallocation of dollars that were previously earmarked for paying down unfunded pension liabilities.
  • The Santa Ana Unified School District reached a milestone this week by serving its one millionth grab-and-go meal since closing campuses to students.
  • Thanks to a donation from a local business, grab-and-go meals in the Fullerton School District came with a side of comic books for thousands of students.

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Updated at 1:25 p.m. on May 13, 2020

California has conducted more than 1 million COVID-19 tests

More than 1 million COVID-19 diagnostic tests have been taken in California since the outbreak began, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week.

In recent days, the state is averaging more than 35,000 daily tests, he said. As of Wednesday, 71,141 cases had been documented in California.

In Orange County, more than 57,000 tests have been administered, resulting in the reporting of 3,749 cumulative cases. There have been 80 coronavirus-related deaths in the county, and 248 patients are currently in the hospital with coronavirus-related illness. Of those, 98 are in intensive care units.

“Ramping up our testing capacity is critical as we begin modifying our stay at home order,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news release. “In addition to standing up more than 80 new testing sites across the state in under-served communities, soon Californians will be able to get tested when they pick up their prescriptions at some pharmacies across the state.”

Testing capacity and the ability to conduct contact tracing are among the key indicators that will determine how fast the state modifies its stay-at-home order.

Other recent developments:

  • Dozens of mental health videos produced by students from Orange County schools have earned regional honors in the Directing Change Program and Film Contest, and four have been selected to advance to a statewide round of judging.

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Updated at 2:10 p.m. on May 11, 2020

Western states urge increased federal support for state and local governments

The leaders of five western states are requesting $1 trillion in relief from the federal government to help preserve core services including health, safety and education, along with jobs.

“We deeply appreciated the quick financial assistance you provided workers, small business people and those who have been displaced by this crisis,” says the letter sent Monday to Congressional leadership. “But now, however, our states will be forced to make deep cuts to programs that help those same individuals without similar relief efforts for state and local governments.”

The letter is signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, along with the governors of Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Washington and other officials.

Other developments on Monday:

  • Staff members at Los Amigos High School in the Garden Grove Unified School District have collected $10,000 — most of it coming from their own accounts — to help local students and families facing financial hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • With nearly 53,000 people tested, Orange County has recorded 3,557 COVID-19 cases to date, with 196 patients hospitalized and 77 in intensive care units as of Monday. Seventy-six deaths have been attributed to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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Updated at 11:05 a.m. on May 8, 2020

State issues new guidance to help lower-risk businesses reopen

Days after announcing that California would modify its stay-at-home order, Gov. Gavin Newsom has released new guidance for retail, manufacturing and logistics businesses that would allow them to reopen Friday, May 8 with specific precautions to protect workers and customers.

“Californians, working together, have flattened the curve,” Newsom said. “Because of that work, our health data tells us that California can enter the next stage of this pandemic and gradually begin to restart portions of our economy.”

The governor has outlined a four-stage roadmap for easing restrictions tied to the state’s stay-at-home order, which was issued on March 19. This week, he announced that California would begin to transition to the second stage by allowing lower-risk businesses to reopen. Schools and child care facilities are also included in stage two.

The governor’s office said some communities may move more quickly through this stage if they are able to show greater progress.

Other developments:

  • A workgroup of local school district leaders and representatives from OCDE is in the process of developing planning assumptions and recommendations for reopening campuses closed to students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force includes administrators who oversee business services, educational services, health, and human resources divisions throughout Orange County.
  • Beaches operated by the County of Orange reopened Friday with some restrictions. California approved the county’s plans for limited recreational activities along local coasts following a week-long, state-mandated closure. Parking lots will remain closed, and appropriate physical distancing must be observed at all county beaches.
  • Adding a new option for distance learning in the COVID-19 era, the Anaheim Union High School District says it will launch an online secondary school that will be ready for the 2020-21 academic year. Cambridge Virtual Academy will serve students in grades seven through 12 with online coursework while drawing inspiration from the district’s highly rated Oxford Academy.
  • Marking National Teacher Appreciation Week, County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares thanked the 20,000-plus educators in Orange County “who are using every resource at their disposal to connect with students, provide academic stability, maintain equity and offer emotional support during the worst public health crisis of our lives.”
  • With more than 46,000 tests administered, the OC Health Care Agency has documented 3,240 total cases of COVID-19 in Orange County. As of Friday, 188 patients were hospitalized, including 74 who have been admitted to intensive care units. To date, 71 local deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus.

***

Updated at 1:30 p.m. on May 5, 2020

Federal stimulus to provide some funding relief for OC school districts

California school districts should get some financial relief from the $1.65 billion in federal stimulus funds that the state is expected to receive by July 1.

The funding, appropriated through the CARES Act approved by Congress in March, equals an average of $275 per student, according to this analysis by EdSource.

Using that formula, schools would receive up to $130 million. EdSource reports that educators are hoping it will be the first installment of a bigger influx of federal aid that will let them shore up their budgets and cover additional expenses related to the coronavirus.

For school districts, these funds represent flexible cash that can be spent to address a number of costs associated with the pandemic, according to EdSource. For example, districts may be able to buy computers, provide internet access, cover the costs of distance learning or pay for cleaning supports.

EdSource has provided a searchable database with the total amount each district can expect to receive. You can search the database here.

***

Updated at 5:08 p.m. on May 4, 2020

Governor says lower-risk workplaces can reopen by the end of the week

Governor Gavin Newsom announced today that lower-risk workplaces in California will be allowed to reopen with modifications beginning this Friday.

Bookstores, clothing shops, florists, sporting goods stores and other retail outlets will be able to resume with curbside pickup by the end of the week. The manufacturing and supply chains that support them will also be permitted to reopen.

But the green light won’t be given to offices that have the ability to telework, seated dining at restaurants, and shopping malls. Additional guidance is coming this Thursday, Newsom said.

The governor said the shift means the state is gradually transitioning to the second of four phases that have been laid out as a roadmap to restoring life in California.

“This is a very positive sign, and it’s happening only for one reason — the data says it can happen,” the governor said.

If additional community spread occurs and the state lacks the capacity to track and control it, officials will consider adjustments, he said.

Newsom said individual counties may be given latitude to move further into phase two if they have plans that are certified by their local health officials and county supervisors.

You can watch the governor’s full briefing on his Facebook page.

***

Updated at 10:30 a.m. on April 30, 2020

Additional meal resources available for students facing food insecurity

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a new food assistance program for children in California who are living in households struggling with food insecurity.

The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program provides electronic food benefits to families equal to the value of meals that children eligible for free or reduced-priced meals would have received at school.

“The COVID-19 crisis has placed additional economic strain on some of our families that were already struggling to put food on the table,” state Superintendent Thurmond said in a news release. “This program provides critical food assistance so that our students who are in economically challenged households can get the nutritious meals at home they need to thrive.”

For the 2019–20 school year, California had approximately 3.9 million children eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, or about 63 percent of children in public schools.

Each eligible child in the household will receive $5.70 per day for each day of the month in which school was cancelled due to COVID-19, for a total of up to $365 per eligible child. The program will provide an estimated $1.4 billion toward the feeding of school children throughout the state during this public health emergency. These students will be identified through their existing eligibility in the state’s free or reduced-priced meals program.

P-EBT cards will arrive in the mail for these households beginning in early May. Children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals through the meal application process must apply for P-EBT benefits online in late May. Online applications will be accepted through June 30, and eligible families will receive benefits retroactively as long as they apply before June 30, 2020. More information about the online application will be available soon.

Students who receive P-EBT benefits are still eligible to receive meals at COVID-19 emergency sites and may continue to receive CalFresh food benefits if eligible.

For more information about P-EBT, visit the CDSS P-EBT informational web page. For updated information about COVID-19 emergency feeding, please visit the CDE COVID-19 School and Child and Adult Day Care Meals web page.

***

Updated at 3:48 p.m. on April 29, 2020

State superintendent convenes group to study possibility of earlier start dates for schools

A day after Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested that districts could start the 2020-21 school year earlier to keep students on track academically, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced he’s working with educational leaders from California and throughout the country to study the possibility.

Thurmond on Wednesday said his workgroup will look to answer key questions and determine what measures would have to be in place before deciding whether schools can safely re-open as early as July. It’s possible some form of remote learning would be needed to maintain social distancing, he said.

“We share the governor’s aspirations for re-opening our schools as soon as possible,” the state superintendent said in a news release. “If we are going to do this, it can only be done when we are sure we can protect the health and safety of everyone in our school communities.”

The panel convened by Thurmond includes superintendents from California along with representatives from the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Education, the California Office of Emergency Services, the Department of Finance, California Health and Human Services and employee associations for teachers, classified staff and administrators. Thurmond has also invited school chiefs from other states to participate.

Other developments from Wednesday:

  • Orange County reported its highest hospitalization count for COVID-19 this week, with 178 patients checked into area hospitals on Tuesday and 74 individuals assigned to intensive care units. As of Wednesday, 175 were hospitalized and 70 were in ICUs. Orange County has documented 2,252 total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, resulting in 44 deaths.

***

Updated at 4:46 p.m. on April 28, 2020

Governor says schools could start the next year earlier to help students catch up academically

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday suggested schools in California could start the 2020-21 school year as early as late July to offset any “learning loss” occurring during the stay-at-home order.

“We have made no decisions definitively in that space but I just want folks to know the concern around learning loss and the concern about waiting until later in the year, in the fall, for the new school year,” Newsom said.

“We might want to consider getting that school year moved up a little bit,” he added.

The proposal was made during the governor’s daily briefing as he outlined a four-stage plan to reopen the state. Newsom also prioritized expanding childcare options and allowing lower-risk workplaces to reopen, including retail stores, manufacturing facilities and offices.

District calendars are generally determined at the local level and subject to negotiations. Orange County start dates vary, but most districts are scheduled to welcome back students in mid-August.

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond issued a statement on Tuesday acknowledging this was the first time Californians were hearing about the idea of reopening schools early. If feasible, he said, a revised calendar could “address equity issues” and help students catch up academically.

“If this is going to work, there are some major questions we will have to answer,” Thurmond said. “First and foremost: Can this be done in a way that protects the health and safety of our students, teachers and school staff?”

“We also must consider the fiscal implications,” he said. “Social distancing in schools may require smaller class sizes, but schools are going to need additional resources to make it happen — including the possibility of hiring more teachers. Additionally, teachers and school staff will need personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies so that our schools are sanitized. We expect that some form of social distancing will be with us through the summer, so if we start school early, we need resources to make it a reality.”

“Clearly, for now, we still have more questions than answers,” Thurmond said. “But now is the time for us to problem-solve and plan for the future.”

Other developments on Tuesday:

  • Students from Vista View Middle School in the Ocean View School District shared heartfelt cards and cookies with healthcare workers at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center.

***

Updated at 9:45 a.m. on April 28, 2020

Citing images of OC beaches, Newsom urges continued social distancing

California Gov. Gavin Newsom mentioned Orange County a few times during his press briefing on Monday, as he urged beachgoers to rethink congregating along the shore.

“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off,” the governor said. “This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts,” the governor said.

Newsom said the quickest path to reopening California’s businesses and recreational sites is for residents to continue practicing social-distancing measures during this critical stretch.

“The reality is, we are just a few weeks away, not months away, from making measurable and meaningful changes to our stay-at-home order,” he said.

Beach crowds were estimated at around 40,000 on Friday and Saturday in Newport Beach, “with the highest concentration of beachgoers in West Newport,” according to the Orange County Register.

***

Updated at 6:20 p.m. on April 23, 2020

Governor directs school districts to focus accountability plans on coronavirus response

Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday issued an executive order that calls for school districts to use their annual accountability plans to outline their COVID-19 responses, including the mitigation measures that will be in place when students return.

Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs, are long-range planning documents tied to budget projections. By law, they must be developed in collaboration with parents, students, teachers and community groups.

Instead of submitting their three-year LCAPs on July 1, districts are now required to share local impacts related to COVID-19 — and their plans to address those impacts. In the fall, districts and charter schools will work with stakeholders on abbreviated one-year LCAPs with a deadline of Dec. 15.

“School districts statewide have been working hard to put distance learning platforms into place and keep their students fed,” State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said. “The LCAP process deadlines should not be placing additional burdens on schools, which as a result of our current climate of social distancing, cannot meaningfully engage with their community stakeholders.”

“The governor’s action frees up staff time and resources for districts to focus solely on the immediate learning needs and health of our students,” Thurmond said.

School districts will be asked to publish written reports explaining the steps they’re taking to deliver high-quality distance learning opportunities, provide school meals in non-congregate settings, and arrange for supervision of students during school hours. They will also be required to explain the steps they’ve taken to meet the needs of low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

State officials say these reports will help ensure transparency and accountability.

Newsom’s executive order also waives required physical education minutes and annual physical fitness tests that require on-site instruction. Academic assessments were previously waived under a separate order.

***

Updated at 11:40 a.m. on April 21, 2020

OC Health Care Agency launches new COVID-19 testing program

The OC Health Care Agency announced Tuesday the launch of the OC COVID-19 Testing Network for residents who might be experiencing symptoms but don’t have access to testing through a health care provider.

The network was formed through a partnership between the county health agency and community health centers that are performing FDA-approved PCR testing, the most reliable testing available to detect current infection, County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said.

“The OC Health Care Agency will continue to work diligently to expand this network by bringing more locations online in the days and weeks to come,” she said.

The PCR test shows if someone is currently infected from a sample taken with a swab. It is not a blood test, nor does it test for antibodies. Residents with symptoms of COVID-19, which generally include fever, cough and shortness of breath, should first contact their medical provider to get guidance on testing and care, county health officials said.

Those who are unable to be tested by their provider can schedule an appointment at any network test site to receive a medical screening and test. Initial locations include:

  • AltaMed Medical Group, Anaheim
  • AltaMed Medical Group, Santa Ana/Bristol
  • Nhan Hoa Comprehensive Health Care Clinic, Garden Grove
  • UCI Health, multiple locations

A continually updated list of test sites with information on scheduling and the appointment process, can be found at www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus — click on COVID-19 Testing and Screening — or by calling the HCA’s Health Referral Line at 800-564-8448.

“Because of continued challenges of obtaining testing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care providers, testing may be restricted at times to high priority groups as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said Dr. Quick. “Residents must make an appointment for testing to assure eligibility and availability of testing.”

***

Updated at 3:57 p.m. on April 17, 2020

County Supt. Al Mijares offers words of encouragement to parents, teachers and staff

With a month of distance learning in the books, Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares offered some words of encouragement for parents, educators and staff.

In a video message posted on Friday, Mijares acknowledged the herculean efforts of parents who are guiding their children through online lessons while managing child care and holding down their regular jobs. Teachers, he said, are operating under similarly strained conditions, with many taking care of their children at home while navigating new communications tools.

“There are tough times in history when the stakes feel impossibly high,” the superintendent said. “But our country has been through tough times before, and I have full confidence we will find our way through this storm.”

Watch the full message above.

***

Updated at 9:30 a.m. on April 17, 2020

Tustin Unified announces new dates for graduation ceremonies

A committee of Tustin Unified School District administrators, ASB advisors, teachers and students from district high schools have recommended rescheduling graduation ceremonies from late May to early August.

Tentatively, graduations will be held on Aug. 4, 5 and 6, with two schools per day, officials said. In an effort to avoid the summer heat, graduations will occur at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Below is the high school graduation schedule:

  • Tuesday, Aug. 4: Tustin Adult School and Tustin Connect (times to be determined)
  • Wednesday, Aug. 5: Foothill at 10 a.m. and Beckman at 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, Aug. 6: Hillview at 10 a.m. and Tustin at 6 p.m.

Beckman, Foothill, Hillview and Tustin graduation ceremonies will be held at Tustin High School’s Northrup Stadium, 1171 El Camino Real. Tustin Adult School and Tustin Connect graduation ceremonies will be held in the Beckman High School Performing Arts Center, 3588 Bryan Ave.

The district’s high school graduation ceremonies will be conducted under the social distancing guidelines in place at that time, officials said. More information will be provided in the weeks ahead as plans are developed. Students and parents were notified of the ceremonies through an all-district email.

“High school seniors and their families are excited about the district planning to hold traditional graduation ceremonies during such an unusual school year,” Franklin said in a district press release.

For more information, visit www.tustin.k12.ca.us or call the TUSD Communications Office at 714-730-7339.

***

Updated at 11:30 a.m. on April 16, 2020

State superintendent launches task force aimed at closing digital divide

A new state Department of Education task force will work to close the digital divide for California students who lack access to resources such as internet connectivity and devices, state Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced Thursday.

“This task force signals a new era, that California is now working with focus and urgency to close the digital divide in the most concrete way we have ever seen,” Thurmond said in a news release. “COVID-19 is a public health crisis in California and all around the world, but it’s also revealed other crises like the technology gap that has persisted for too long, leading to opportunity and achievement gaps for California’s students.”

The Closing the Digital Divide Task Force will help facilitate donations, create more publicity and cast a bigger spotlight on those who can help. It also plans to hold a public hearing where internet service providers may be called upon to testify on their efforts to improve internet access during the pandemic, Thurmond said.

State officials have in recent weeks assessed the technology needs for California students and are working with partners to secure devices and WiFi hotspots to close the technology gap. This effort comes as many school districts across California have announced campuses will remain closed to students through at least the end of the school year.

The state also announced last week that it partnered with the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation, the non-profit partner of the Department of Education since 2011, to create the California Bridging the Digital Divide Fund. The fund is a joint effort of the Governor’s Office, the state Board of Education and CDE Foundation, and is a centralized resource for state leadership to provide essential devices, connectivity and related digital learning supports for pre-K-12 students, teachers and their families.

The California Bridging the Digital Divide Fund is now accepting individual contributions at bit.ly/CADigitalDivide. Corporate and institutional donors may contact Mary Nicely at mnicely@cde.ca.gov.

***

Updated at 1:10 p.m. on April 15, 2020

SAT, ACT to shift to digital, at-home versions if school closures stretch into fall

High schools students will be able to take an at-home, digital version of the SAT if school closures remain in effect through the fall, the test’s publisher announced Wednesday.

The College Board provided few details of what the home version of the exam would look like, which is currently taken on paper in a secure setting under the watchful eye of proctors. The ACT, the SAT’s counterpart, will also be available digitally at home this fall.

The announcements come as colleges across the country — including the University of California — are making the SAT and ACT standardized tests optional as an admissions requirement for students entering college in fall 2021.

The College Board has already announced that it will administer Advanced Placement tests at home in May because of the virus. The AP tests will be shortened to 45 minutes from about three hours, and will be open book.

The College Board announced the at-home possibility as an option for students who have not been able to take the SAT this spring, or who have concerns about their ability to take it in the fall.

***

Updated at 12:37 p.m. on April 15, 2020

OC Health Care Agency launches new website to help residents access mental health services

To help residents cope with fear, anxiety and stress in the COVID-19 era, the OC Health Care Agency has launched a website with a menu of mental health support services that can be accessed by telephone or online.

You can find it here: https://occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/mental-health-support

Along with work and school disruptions, the global pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders have brought on feelings of uncertainty and isolation for many, along with financial worries and concerns about loved ones.

The new site was created by the HCA’s Behavioral Health Services division as a way to easily access an array of local resources. It includes a suicide prevention hotline, contact information for a crisis assessment team, counseling resources and an information and referral line.

There’s also the OC WarmLine, which offers confidential telephone support for anyone who might be lonely, confused or in need of information about mental health or substance abuse services.

Additional community resources are included, and extended hours of support are available.

***

Updated at 12:35 p.m. on April 14, 2020

Governor lists six factors the state will consider before modifying stay-at-home orders

Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday outlined six key indicators that will drive the process of gradually lifting California’s stay-at-home order.

At his afternoon news conference, Newsom noted that social distancing and other COVID-19 interventions have yielded positive results to bend the curve, which is critical to keeping the state’s health care systems from being overrun. However, he and other state officials acknowledged these measures are not sustainable long-term and have already impacted California’s economy, poverty levels and overall health.

“While Californians have stepped up in a big way to flatten the curve and buy us time to prepare to fight the virus, at some point in the future we will need to modify our stay-at-home order,” the governor said. “As we contemplate reopening parts of our state, we must be guided by science and data, and we must understand that things will look different than before.”

Lifting the stay-at-home order will be a gradual process, he said, taking into account these six indicators:

  • The ability to monitor and protect communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating and supporting those who are positive or exposed
  • The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19
  • The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges
  • The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand
  • The ability for businesses, schools and child care facilities to support physical distancing
  • The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary

Newsom said there is no precise timeline for restarting public life and businesses but said these six indicators will serve as the basis for making critical decisions. He suggested that a clearer picture could be offered in two weeks if the state continues to see a decline in hospitalization rates and ICU occupancies.

California could look somewhat different as it transitions to a post-COVID-19 society. For example, he said, schools could stagger their schedules so that larger populations do not congregate at once, and restaurants could have fewer tables.

“There’s no light switch here,” Newsom said. “I would argue it’s more like a dimmer.”

For more information on California’s response, visit covid19.ca.gov.

Other developments:

***

Updated at 4:35 p.m. on April 13, 2020

Governor says west coast states are developing a framework for reopening economies

California, Oregon and Washington are collaborating on a regional plan to reopen west coast economies in a “safe and strategic and responsible way,” Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday.

Details about California’s specific approach will be announced on Tuesday, Newsom said. But the governor said the three states have developed a framework for restarting public life and business based on shared objectives.

“I don’t want to overstate this framework,” he said during an afternoon news conference, “and I don’t want to understate the imperative of meeting this moment by continuing to practice appropriate social distancing and practicing physical distancing so we can continue to bend the curve.”

On Monday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee joined Newsom in a joint statement declaring that their states were “acting in close coordination and collaboration to ensure the virus can never spread wildly in our communities.”

The shared approach, they said, will put forth clear indicators for reopening the economy, noting that “health outcomes and science” —  rather than politics — will guide decisions.

“We’ll be driven by facts, we’ll be driven by evidence, we’ll be driven by science, we’ll be driven by our public health advisors,” Gov. Newsom said. “And we’ll be driven by the collaborative spirit that defines the best of us at this incredibly important moment.”

Other developments:

  • School districts throughout Orange County have been setting up grab-and-go sites to make sure students continue to have access to healthy meals during the COVID-19 crisis. But in many cases, students aren’t the only ones in need of food. Saddleback Church is among the organizations that are stepping in to fill that gap. Since March 9, the church has been working with OCDE’s Alternative Education division to provide groceries to almost 2,000 families a week.
  • County health officials reported nine new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, marking the lowest daily count since March 17. By comparison, there were 55 new cases documented on Sunday and 85 the day before that. To date, there have been 1,283 total cases countywide, resulting in 19 fatalities, according to the OC Health Care Agency’s website. More than 14,000 individuals have been tested tested by the HCA Public Health Lab and commercial labs.

***

Updated at 11:41 a.m. on April 13, 2020

OC probation staff member assigned to juvenile facility has tested positive for COVID-19

The Orange County Probation Department says it has received confirmation that one of its employees has tested positive for COVID-19.

Officials said the staff member was assigned to one of the agency’s juvenile facilities. The employee last worked on Friday, April 3.

In an April 10 news release, the department said the staff member is self-quarantined at home and in stable condition. There has been no official notification of any other staff member or youth housed in any of its juvenile facilities testing positive for COVID-19.

Probation staff sent out a notification to all youth, parents, guardians and staff members who may have been exposed. Families were provided additional guidance for who they should contact for more information.

Staff have been asked to follow health recommendations, including monitoring their temperatures and checking for specific symptoms for at least 14 days. Frequent hand washing and social distancing were also advised.

The probation department says it has increased the daily cleaning and sanitation at each facility. Facilities staff and youth are also practicing social distancing and washing their hands frequently.

***

Updated at 10:16 a.m. on April 9, 2020

OC health officer says workers at essential businesses should wear face coverings

Orange County’s top health official is strongly encouraging all employees of essential businesses to wear face coverings at work, and all residents engaged in essential activities outside the home are urged to do the same.

The recommendation by County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick is in line with guidance from the California Department of Public Health. The objective is to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by those who are not showing symptoms.

Essential workers, as identified by the state of California, include those supporting schools, colleges and universities to enable distance learning and offer school meals. They also include those who supervise the children of employees in critical sectors.

“Residents can make their own face coverings at home from a variety of materials and should refrain from purchasing personal protective equipment that is critical and in short supply for our healthcare workers, such as N95 and surgical masks,” Dr. Quick said.

Face coverings use common materials to cover the nose and mouth. They can be secured to the head with ties or straps, or simply wrapped around the lower face. Face coverings may be factory-made, as well as folded or sewn, and can be improvised using household items like scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts or towels.

“Face coverings are an additional tool that may help protect staff and patrons from COVID-19, but they are not a substitute for proven protective measures like frequent hand washing, keeping your hands away from your face, practicing social distancing and staying home,” said Dr. Quick.

All essential businesses should continue to ensure healthy work environments based on recommendations from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other developments:

  • Sixty-seven new COVID-19 cases were reported in Orange County on Thursday, bringing the total to 1,079. The number of fatalities connected to the novel coronavirus remained unchanged at 17.

***

Updated at 2:56 p.m. on April 8, 2020

Number of COVID-19 cases in Orange County surpasses 1,000

Orange County has hit a sobering COVID-19 milestone, surpassing 1,000 cases.

The cumulative total now stands at 1,016, with 91 new cases added Wednesday. To date, there have been 17 deaths.

The first local case of COVID-19 was reported back on Jan. 25, and nearly 11,800 individuals have been tested in Orange County. Of that group, about 8.6 percent have been diagnosed with the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

In an effort to flatten the curve, the governor and the state Department of Public Health have ordered Californians to shelter in place, with exceptions for essential workers and those participating in critical activities, such as grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions.

On Friday, April 3, the OC Health Care website www.ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus began including a hospitalization chart showing cases over time.

“While we want to provide information that best educates our community during this pandemic, it’s important to understand that hospitalization numbers capture a point in time and will fluctuate daily,” said County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick. “Looking at historical data over a period of weeks can give us a better understanding of trends in our community.”

Other developments:

***

Updated at 9:06 p.m. on April 7, 2020

Governor expresses optimism, introduces playbooks for managing stress

During a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom sought to convey a sense of optimism, saying the social distancing efforts of Californians were slowing the spread of the coronavirus and flattening the curve.

“It is bending, but it’s also stretching,” the governor said.

Newsom said 15,865 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in California, representing a 10.7 percent increase over Monday’s rate. The hospitalization rate was up to 2,611, a 4.1 percent increase in 24 hours, and 1,108 patients were in intensive care units, marking a 2.1 percent increase.

“Our modeling shows that we’re not at peak in a week or two, that we are seeing a slow and steady increase,” he said. “But it’s moderate, and it’s moderate, again, because of the actions all of you have taken in terms of the physical distancing.”

Newsom started his press conference by addressing mental health concerns and the secondary physical impacts of sheltering in place. State Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has developed new playbooks for managing stress for children and adults, he said.

“I just want you to know that staying at home doesn’t mean you’re alone,” the governor said.

Other developments:

  • In a commentary for EdSource, Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares says distance learning must no longer be viewed as a tool that augments the instructional program — it now must drive it. The column, adapted from the superintendent’s statement on April 1, calls for online systems that build knowledge and skills, allow for student work to be submitted and graded, and support equity and social and emotional learning.
  • The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 50 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the countywide total to 931. There have been 15 deaths connected to the coronavirus in Orange County. Eight cases were in the 0-17 age group.

***

Updated at 2:36 p.m. on April 6, 2020

In OC, children account for less than 1 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases

Local health officials announced 51 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing Orange County’s total to 882, including 14 deaths.

To date, the OC Health Care Agency’s website is reporting just six confirmed cases of children ages 0 to 17 infected by the novel coronavirus, with no fatalities. That amounts to about 0.7 percent of all cases in the county.

By comparison, 41 percent of local COVID-19 cases are ages 45 to 64, 16 percent are between 25 and 34, and 15 percent are in the 35 to 44 age group, according to the HCA’s website. The age ranges, though unequal, are intended to group those with a generally similar health risk.

In California, 160 of the 13,438 COVID-19 cases are in the 0-17 age group, for a rate of about 1.2 percent.

“It’s not known yet whether some children may be at higher risk for severe illness, for example, children with underlying medical conditions and special healthcare needs,” the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website. “There is more to learn about how the disease impacts children.”

Public schools in Orange County have not had students on their campuses since March 13, when district superintendents and school boards made the decision to temporarily suspend in-person attendance. Many districts have moved to distance learning models for the remainder of the school year.

Other developments:

  • A computer science teacher from Garden Grove High School is using 3D printers to make protective face shields for doctors and nurses. Eric Henninger has 10 3D printers in his home producing gear that creates a plastic barrier between medical providers and their patients, according to the Orange County Register. Cranking them out at a rate of one per hour, he’s already delivered more than 600 face shields and is now seeking volunteers and additional 3D printers to produce more. His website is at http://oc3dppe.org.
  • Over the weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order intended to prioritize child care for essential workers, including health care professionals, emergency response personnel, law enforcement and grocery workers. The order gives the state Department of Education and the California Department of Social Services flexibility to waive certain programmatic and administrative requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

***

Updated at 4:45 p.m. on April 3, 2020

OC residents encouraged to create family pandemic plans

We’re often reminded to plan for emergencies like earthquakes and fires, but officials say planning before and during a pandemic is just as critical.

That’s why the county is encouraging local residents to create family preparedness plans in case they’re impacted by COVID-19.

Graphic encouraging residents to create a family planSo what does a pandemic plan look like? For starters, parents and caregivers should identify trusted family members, friends or neighbors who may be able to take care of children if the parent or caregiver is diagnosed with COVID-19 and requires hospitalization or isolation.

“We want families to be ready in the event a caregiver unexpectedly is diagnosed with COVID-19,” said Debra Baetz, director of Orange County Social Services Agency. “By taking some simple steps, families can help alleviate the stress of an unforeseen health emergency and ensure their loved ones are cared for.”

Here are some important things to consider when putting together a family plan:

Create an alternate caregiver list. Set up a roster of trusted adults who can step in to provide childcare, being mindful of the unique circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Choose individuals who are not high-risk and who would be able to accommodate an isolation area, should your child need it. Discuss the plan ahead of time with these individuals.

Prepare documents. Write a letter authorizing your designated caregiver to seek medical treatment for your child, if necessary. Make copies of insurance cards and other important medical documents your alternate caregiver may need.

Write down special instructions. Be sure to leave a “need-to-know” list for your alternate caregiver. This list may include information such as food allergies, needed medication, nutritional needs or limitations, or any other habits or routines that may help provide consistency of care to your loved one.

Create a kid-friendly “go bag.” Being separated from a parent or loved one can cause stress and anxiety for children. Pack a bag with some overnight essentials and include a special note from you, a family photo, a favorite book or other personal item that may help comfort your child. Be sure to also pack essentials including toiletries and clothing.

A family plan template to capture this information can be found at bit.ly/ocfamilyplan. For more information visit ready.gov/pandemic.

Other developments:

  • County health officials reported 57 new COVID-19 cases on Friday but no new fatalities. The total number of confirmed cases in Orange County is now 711, with 13 deaths, according to the OC Health Care Agency’s website. As of April 2, there were a total of 10,701 positive cases and 237 deaths in California, according to the state Department of Public Health.
  • The 2020 census count has begun, and the COVID-19 crisis makes participation more important than ever. Accurate census figures enable local governments and health care systems to make critical decisions in support of public safety. Click through or visit. To participate, visit https://2020census.gov/en.html.

***

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:

***

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.”

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.”

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

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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.