Beachgoers packed Orange County's shoreline on Saturday and not everybody wore masks, worrying public health and elected officials who say people were letting their guard down even as the coronavirus surges across California.
Data collected by health officials show hundreds of people have been infected in densely populated neighborhoods in Anaheim and Santa Ana that are more likely home to low-income residents, the Orange County Register reported Saturday.
The residents living in the identified hot spots are more likely to live in multi-generational or multi-family households and many of them hold jobs in stores and restaurants, health officials told the newspaper.
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Cases and hospitalizations have grown significantly in the last couple weeks, and “it’s not just around the hot zones — we’re seeing much more spread around the county," said Bernadette Boden-Albala, dean of University of California, Irvine’s public health program.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county has been steadily rising: two weeks ago it was 325 people; on Saturday the total was 451.
As the county reopens for business, Boden-Albala said people tired of stay-at-home restrictions may not have taken the risks of infection as seriously because they didn't know anyone who has gotten seriously ill.
Concerns about the spike in cases prompted Disneyland employees to stage a car caravan around the theme park on Saturday to call for routine testings and other safety measures to protect them. Disney announced Wednesday it would delay reopening its California theme parks, which were set to welcome back visitors on July 17.
At least four California counties on Friday paused or prepared to backtrack on their reopening plans in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. On Saturday, the state reported a rise of nearly 6,000 confirmed virus cases from the day before. Nearly 5,900 people have died from coronavirus complications in the state.
This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom sounded renewed alarm bells about where the state is headed and pleaded for residents to wear masks in public, as required, and keep a physical distance from people not in their household. He also urged Imperial County, an agricultural county that borders Mexico, to reimpose a stay-at-home order to deal with a high rate of positive cases and hospitalizations.
The county’s board of supervisors elected not to take any action during an emergency meeting Friday. Instead, local officials said they were urging residents to wear masks and continue to follow social distancing guidelines. Imperial officials were set to meet with the governor’s office on Saturday to address the problem.
Newsom's recommendation prompted the bishop of the Diocese of San Diego to suspend plans to resume services in Imperial county. The original plan called for short outdoor Mass services.
“I thank our priests, church personnel and volunteers who had prepared for weeks to welcome our brothers and sisters back to Mass, but the community’s and our parishioners’ safety comes first," Bishop Robert W. McElroy said in a statement.
The county of 175,000 people lies across the border from Mexicali, a sprawling industrial city of 1 million people that has enormous influence on its economy and culture. Some hospital officials in the county, which provides many of the vegetables in U.S. supermarkets in the winter, have said the increase in cases was at least partly driven by American citizens who live on the Mexico side in a region where cross-border travel and living is common.