Authorities Hold News Conference as Orange County Reports 2 More COVID-19 Deaths

In the midst of combating the coronavirus pandemic, Orange County officials said they were looking for a new public health director after the abrupt resignation of the department's de facto chief.


Orange County Thursday reported two more coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total to 36, and announced 78 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing that number to 1,827.

The number of hospitalized patients decreased from 162 on Wednesday to 158, with the number of intensive care patients dropping from 70 to 59, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Overall, there have been 170 coronavirus cases in the county's nursing homes, with 102 residents diagnosed with COVID-19 and 68 staffers falling ill to the virus.

County officials have contracted with a temporary nursing staffing agency to make sure there are enough emergency medical technicians to help in the event that nursing home staffers refuse to report for work.

Two residents of Huntington Valley Health Care Center in Huntington Beach -- aged 77 and 79 -- died this week. Fourteen other patients are hospitalized, and 24 staffers have tested positive for the virus.

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Of the county's total coronavirus cases, 2%, or 33, involve people under 18 years old; 8%, or 141, are between 18-24; 16%, or 296, are between 25-34; 14%, or 262, are between 35-44; 39%, or 708, are between 45-64, and 21%, 385, are 65 or older. Men make up 53% of the county's cases and 64% of its fatalities.

In the midst of combating the coronavirus pandemic, Orange County officials said they were looking for a new public health director after the abrupt resignation of the department's de facto chief.

David Souleles, who has been the county's deputy agency director of public health services since the end of 2003, had been filling in for Richard Sanchez, who stepped down as Orange County Health Care Agency director last month to take over as the head of CalOptima, which provides insurance for the county's indigent.

When Sanchez took his new post, Souleles had been in the spotlight when officials presented updates on the department's efforts in fighting COVID-19. On Tuesday, Souleles presented a preliminary plan for the eventual reopening of Orange County to the Board of Supervisors.

On Monday, Souleles informed county CEO Frank Kim and the Health Care Agency's interim director, Bob Wilson, that he was retiring.

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Souleles' last day in office will be May 1, he said in his resignation letter.

"I am proud of the accomplishments of public health over the past 16 years I have been here, and know that the staff in Public Health Services will continue to do good work moving forward,'' Souleles wrote in the letter addressed to Wilson.

On Wednesday, Souleles sent an internal email to staff announcing his plans to retire from government service after "nearly 32 years of professional experience working in public health.''

He added, "I am looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time with family in the weeks and months ahead. It has been a pleasure and an honor serving with each and everyone of you. Together as a team we have done great work to protect and improve the health of our community. You are truly an exceptional team of dedicated public health professionals and our neighbors are better off for the work that you do.''

Supervisor Doug Chaffee told City News Service the news was "disappointing.''

"He seemed to be doing, in my view, an excellent job,'' Chaffee said.

"He had a good grasp of everything.''

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Officials had appeared to be grooming Souleles to take over for Sanchez.

"I thought he would be the leading candidate to replace Richard Sanchez,'' Chaffee said. "I think there is disappointment, because he was doing a great job for us.'' Chaffee did not know why Souleles decided to resign in the middle of
the pandemic.

"There's something personal there, but he's not shared it with me,'' Chaffee said, speculating there may have been "too much stress'' with the job.

The supervisor added there may be a morale problem within the agency, but that everyone is dealing with those kinds of issues under the quarantine conditions.

Chaffee suggested Lilly Simmering, the assistant director of the county Health Care Agency, as a possible interim head of the department.

"She's near the top,'' he said. "She will give us good coordination there and there are some awfully good people over there, but this is disappointing.''

Kim is in charge of hiring a new chief of the Health Care Agency, but, "I'm sure he'll look to the board for an opinion before making a choice,'' Chaffee said.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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