O.C. supervisors bar public health staff from COVID-19 town halls

Amid row, hospitalizations in the county down and vaccinations are up.
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Hospitalizations have declined for the past couple of days while vaccinations are up in Orange County. And more than two million people in the county have been fully vaccinated. But amid the county's progress with coronavirus cases, the Board of Supervisors is divided over how to share COVID-19 information.

Supervisors Andrew Do and Doug Chaffee barred the county's public health staff from participating in the virtual town halls held by Supervisor Katrina Foley.

Foley gave the Thursday briefing without anyone from the county’s Health Care Agency by her side.

“I’m going to fight [the directive] by continuing to offer information. There is nothing they can do to stop me from doing that,” she said. Foley has been publicly critical of the county’s public information approach.

Even with the brewing battle between the supervisors, Foley brought good news on vaccinations. “The highest rate of vaccinations in one day was 11,000,” she said.

Hours after the scheduled press briefing, Do and Chaffee issued a joint statement about their decision. The statement said, in part, that to carry out good governance and allow the County’s Health Officer and the agency to meet the demand of their critical work to fight the pandemic they will continue to balance the frequency of public briefings.

“When we have updated numbers on COVID-19 posted daily, followed by weekly press releases and press calls by the county’s CEO team and our County Health Officer, taking county staff away from their jobs for private publicity events is not the most appropriate use of public resources,” said Do.

Do also appeared to be referring to Foley in his statement. “It is an abuse of power to use county executive staff to self-promote,” he said.

Chaffee said they would continue to work closely with the OC Health Care Agency “to ensure the public is provided with timely and accessible information.”

Foley responded with her own statement on Thursday, shared by Voice of OC. Foley said the press briefings were an important source of information for O.C. residents and that she will continue to share information with the public. Foley levied oblique criticisms of her own, implying that Do and Chaffee were playing politics when they barred county staff from participating in the briefings.

“Now is not the time for politics to get in the way of public health. I encourage my colleagues to reverse their directive and join me in sharing information for the benefit of the Orange County residents that we have the privilege to serve,” she said.

Foley said that Do and Chaffee’s decision is likely inappropriate because directing county staff would normally require a formal vote from the Board of Supervisors.

“According to… my conversations with our legal team and our executive team, two county supervisors do not have the legal authority to prevent county employees from assisting a supervisor,” she said.

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