The Orange County Board of Supervisors Monday approved an emergency declaration and heightened training of healthcare providers and first responders as they brace for a potential influx of coronavirus patients.
The action came amid word that a crew of Orange County Fire Authority firefighters were placed in isolation at a station in Irvine after encountering a patient who was thought to possibly have the COVID-19 virus.
Test results came back late Monday afternoon showing the patient did not have coronavirus, so the four firefighters were released and sent home, according to OCFA officials.
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The Engine Company 20 firefighters had transported the patient, who had traveled internationally and had symptoms similar to COVID-19, to an area hospital on Saturday night.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we isolated the crew and rigorously cleaned" their station and fire truck, Windsor said. "The crew remains isolated in the station until we receive the test results."
She said the crew self-quarantined until the test results came back. The rest of the Engine Company 20 firefighters who were not on the call, including the battalion chief, were temporarily moved to another station.
According to a memo from OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy dated Sunday, "Unfortunately, the responding crew used some of the recommended personal protective equipment, but not all."
The emergency declaration is "to ensure our county is prepared to deal with any possible infection or ... outbreak in our county,'' Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said at Monday's emergency meeting.
"The public may be a little confused about the level of alert they should have and how urgent this response should be, but we don't have the luxury of taking a chance,'' Do said. ``We are responsible for the health of our residents, so what I'm asking for us to do as a county is to assess our readiness."
Do pointed out there have been "logistical challenges" elsewhere as well as "delays and maybe some mistakes that were made, so we don't want to be put in the same position."
The emergency declaration makes it easier for the county to call on additional resources from state and federal authorities if there is an outbreak.
"We just need to have the resources and protocol in place so we're not scrambling at the last minute to meet demands," Do said.
The increased training of healthcare providers in the county "is even more necessary now that we have heard over 100 healthcare workers in Solana County may have been exposed to coronavirus," Do said. "So, of the 89 cases reported in the U.S. as of Sunday, 42 were detected and tested, and of those, 19 were travel-related and 19 were person-to-person."
Do said it was "a little bit scary" that there are four cases which remain undetermined as to the transmission.
"There are reports of 600 individuals here in Orange County under voluntary quarantine,'' Do said. "They are in a voluntary quarantine because they have traveled to mainland China recently."
Do added, "But what of the others who traveled to Italy, Iran or South Korea?"
After the hearing, Do told City News Service he was troubled that the board was not briefed on the incident with the OCFA. He said he does not believe the county's Health Care Agency was informed.
"I would expect to be have been provided information on this so that I could disseminate it to the public, especially in light of our special board meeting where this topic was discussed on point,'' Do said. "But, to me, the OCFA has always been an agency that sometimes it can be hard to get information from... I don't know the reason, but over the years that has been my sense."
Do added whether the patient ends of testing positive or not, "we can't wait until confirmation someone has it before alerting the public."
"We have to assist the public in minimizing contact with others if they are unsure themselves. Because by the time the incubation period runs its course, it might be too late and the individual who might be affected will have exposed many other people to it."
Supervisor Don Wagner, whose district includes Irvine, said, "It was disappointing to learn about it in the media. I'm not sure if it was OCFA, or HCA, or both, that had the information, but a pre-meeting briefing would have been welcome. I don't think it would have changed anything, however."
Windsor said an email of Fennessy's memo on the potential exposure was sent Sunday to the agency's board of directors, which includes Wagner and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who was in Washington, D.C., on county business Monday. The fire authority also updated county health officials before Monday's meeting, Windsor said.
Meanwhile, a hearing that had been scheduled this afternoon on a request for a temporary restraining order to block plans to house coronavirus patients at the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa was canceled. U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton said in a written ruling that the issue was moot since federal authorities on Friday said they have dropped those plans, which the city had opposed.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley told City News Service on Monday that city officials continue to "monitor" any attempts to send COVID-19 patients to the Fairview Developmental Center.
"We are going to continue pursuing whatever legal recourse we have," Foley said. "Right now we are concerned that our first responders do not have (the right) equipment, and we are concerned there are enough testing kits to be provided to the state of California. We need a better plan from the CDC. The system isn't working."
The federal government's announcement regarding Fairview in court papers filed on Friday followed a 3 1/2-hour meeting held Thursday among state, federal and local officials on the plan that Staton put on hold last Monday.
According to the Friday court filing, federal authorities have "determined, as it informed the state today ..., that it now does not need to use the Fairview Developmental Center site to maintain a federal quarantine of passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. This development reflects the imminent end of the quarantine period for those passengers, as well as the unexpectedly small number of passengers who have tested positive for COVID-19."
Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that "as many as 50% of the passengers (from the cruise ship that was quarantined while docked in Japan) could test positive within the quarantine period; in fact, actual results have been much, much lower," according to the court document.
Federal authorities said, however, the restraining order "deprived public health officials of a secure quarantine facility at a time when such a facility was badly needed, and has occupied key hospital resources in other counties at a time when those resources were needed for other patients. This litigation has also consumed myriad other state and federal resources, including the attention of key public health officials, at a time when the state is working to marshal every available resource to protect the public. Because the situation has evolved, and because state public health officials have found new ways to confront that evolving situation, this case is now moot."