Orange County Might Not Reach Least Restrictive Tier Until Next Summer

It could be next summer before Orange County reaches the least restrictive yellow tier in California’s COVID-19 monitoring system and it likely will not happen until two-thirds of the community gets vaccinated against the disease, according to Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau. The system’s yellow tier requires a county measurement of less than one case of COVID-19 per 100,000 people and less than 2 percent testing positivity rate, as well as a health equity metric. Orange County is now in the red tier, the second tier in the system. Chau, who is also the county health officer, was confident Orange County could reach the next, less restrictive orange or third tier soon, but said reaching the yellow tier would be “very difficult.” “We probably won’t be able to achieve that until there’s a vaccine that would have an acceptance rate by the community that is significant—65 to 70 percent—in order for us to be able to kind of slow down and possibly stop the transmission,” he said at a Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 20. After repeated questioning from the supervisors, Chau said this might be able to occur around next summer, but cautioned it was a very rough estimate. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced at a press conference on Oct. 19 that California scientists would be independently reviewing the safety and efficacy of any Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved COVID-19 vaccines before distributing them in the state. “Don’t anticipate or expect that you can go down to the local pharmacy any time in this calendar year and likely get a vaccination,” Newsom said. Each person is expected to be required to get two shots in a 21-day period for the vaccine. Newsom said the first phase of the vaccine would be “very, very limited” and possibly require special ultra-cold storage. The first doses of the vaccine will go to health care workers, first responders, and other high-risk individuals. Estimates for mass availability range from the first quarter to the third quarter of 2021—but Newsom said even if millions of people start to get the vaccine, it won’t mean the pandemic is suddenly over. “I want to remind everybody that vaccines will not end this pandemic overnight,” he said. At the Oct. 20 meeting, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel asked Chau if he had ever seen scientific studies supporting the exact numbers used in the different tier requirements implemented by Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Chau said no. “That will be on the policy side, so this board should have conversations with the governor’s office,” Chau said. Steel then blasted the Newsom administration, saying the governor was “not a scientist” and that the state was “randomly throwing numbers at us.” “This county is going to file another bankruptcy, because small businesses are not coming back,” she said. Orange County previously filed for bankruptcy in 1994 after the county treasurer bought a series of high-risk investments that flopped. Supervisor Don Wagner said he thought next year would be “troubled,” but didn’t yet think the county would have to declare bankruptcy again. “What I do think we are looking at though, throughout the county, are widespread bankruptcies from the businesses that are suffering from the fits and the starts and the changes and the somewhat erratic response of Sacramento to COVID,” Wagner said. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett agreed the county is “getting devastated” and said each week more companies are laying off additional employees. This week, Pacific Life Insurance laid off nearly 300 workers. The supervisor also pointed out that there is still no guarantee Orange County will reach the yellow tier at any particular time. “If you take a look at the yellow tier, it basically means that we’ve eradicated COVID,” Bartlett said. However, even in the yellow tier the state still requires certain restrictions on businesses. “When you look at what it takes to get to the yellow tier, a county like ours with 3.2 million people, less than one case per 100,000. We’re talking about potentially years out. We can’t keep our economy restricted for that period of time,” Bartlett said.

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Orange County Food Banks Set to Receive $3 Million in Additional Funding

Orange County officials are expected to vote to provide $3 million in additional federal funding toward local food banks at a meeting on Oct. 20. In May, an original provision of $3 million was given and divided between the two largest food banks in the county: Orange County Food Bank, run by Community Action Partnership, and Second Harvest Food Bank. Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said during an Oct. 15 press conference that the supervisors plan to vote in favor of the additional funding and an extension of the county’s partnership with the organizations. “The original agreement, which was set to expire, would extend to November 30th under this agenda item and would add an additional $3 million of federal CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] funding for a total of $6 million,” she said. The next food drive is planned for Oct. 29, from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex, Steel said. “I am delighted to see the community coming together to help each other during these difficult times,” she said. Food banks across the country have also been relying on boxes filled with meat, dairy, and fresh produce bought from American farmers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Farmers to Families program, which is scheduled to end on Oct. 31. The USDA program has purchased more than 106 million food boxes for use by food banks nationwide since May 15. Local food banks have found such prepackaged boxes are very convenient for members of the community to pick up during the COVID-19 pandemic via drive-thru. The $3 million would provide nearly 1.5 million total pounds of food for each organization, and feed around 50,000 Orange County families during the next few months. Gregory Scott, the president and CEO of Community Action Partnership and the Orange County Food Bank, said his organization helps a wide range of people. “Persons who historically require assistance from organizations like the Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAP OC) include homeless persons, women with children, persons with a disability, the unemployed, people experiencing an illness, those experiencing the separation of a relationship, seniors on fixed incomes, and the working poor,” Scott said in a recent article for the organization. Second Harvest had already been focused heavily on providing food for senior citizens, according to a recent newsletter. As many as 22 percent of seniors in Orange County were food insecure even before the pandemic, reported the organization. “Seniors are a population that continue to grow in Orange County—and sadly, the number of seniors facing hunger is on the rise too. As the cost of living skyrockets, their fixed income no longer supports their daily needs and monthly expenses,” said CEO Harald Herrmann in the newsletter. Healthy, nutritious food is also helpful for reducing the risk of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, hypertension, and obesity. “Those are the conditions that would put people at a higher mortality and morbidity rate once folks are infected with COVID-19,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and the county health officer, at a recent press conference.

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Dispute Over Unofficial Ballot Boxes Continues in Southern California

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Oct. 16 that state Republican Party officials have agreed to stop using unauthorized ballot collection boxes, but a state party spokesman had a different message. “The rhetoric is one thing … but our observations in the field … is another,” Padilla said in a phone call with reporters. “Despite the rhetoric, we continue to hear the state Republican Party has agreed to cease the deployment of unauthorized, unofficial, unsecure ballot drop boxes.” That was news to Republican Party officials in California, said party spokesman Hector Barajas. “We still get to use the boxes,” Barajas said of the unofficial drop boxes that the party purchased and set up in various places in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties, which sparked calls for investigations, including one announced by Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer on Oct. 12. Spitzer said that Becerra’s office has now taken the lead on the investigations. “We started our investigation, but we’re in a kind of holding pattern until we get told or asked to continue to participate,” Spitzer said. State GOP officials acknowledged earlier this week that it was a mistake for activists to place signs indicating the boxes were official and agreed to remove those. A letter from GOP attorney Thomas Hiltachk on Oct. 14 addressed to Padilla stated that the Republican Party would not be removing the boxes, claiming that they were legal because of California’s ballot harvesting laws, but noting that the party did not intend to use the word “official” as part of the signage on the boxes. “The California Republican Party did not promote, or authorize the promotion of, the secure boxes as ‘official mail drop boxes,’” the letter stated. “When we learned that a sign using the word ‘official’ was used in some locations on Saturday, October, 10, 2020, we corrected that error immediately and within hours.” The letter further stated that the party had not and would not “place boxes unattended, outdoors, or in other places where the general public gather.” Otherwise, “we made no concessions,” Barajas said of the use of the ballot collection boxes. “They realized they didn’t have a leg to stand on,” Barajas said of Padilla and Becerra, after attorneys for the party sent the letter rejecting the state cease-and-desist order. “They could have shortened this press conference by saying, ‘I’m sorry,'” Barajas said. “That’s what it comes out to at the end of the day.” Counting the Votes Padilla said anyone agreeing to deliver a ballot for someone else to a local election office must sign the outside of the ballot’s envelope. But whether that is done or not, the vote will still be counted. Becerra acknowledged that a failure to sign the envelope won’t necessarily disqualify a vote, but he said that won’t let the conveyor of the vote off the hook legally. “We can’t hold someone’s hand in everything they do,” Becerra said. “We think the law is pretty straightforward and anyone who wishes to participate in the process in which you collect the vote, please make sure you’re doing it appropriately. … Please be safe and responsible.” Padilla said the signature of the conveyor of the vote is important. “The chain of custody in this is critical,” Padilla said. “That was not being kept with the unofficial drop boxes. … It was misleading and deceptive and undermined voters’ understanding of how they’re surrendering their ballots. … The Republican Party has acknowledged that in the use of those deceptive boxes.” Becerra added, “The investigation is ongoing. We continue to monitor activities of any entity seeking to collect voters’ ballots and we want to admonish anyone participating in these activities to understand what their responsibilities are.” One concern that has been raised is that a party activist could easily scan an envelope to determine if it is being cast by a Democrat or Republican and could dump ballots they don’t want counted. Voters are encouraged to drop their ballots in the mail, in an official drop box monitored by their local Registrar of Voters, at a Registrar of Voters’ offices, or at a vote center. “When that chain of custody is lost, there is no guarantee all the ballots will be returned to the county and on a timely basis,” Padilla said. “Because the law has a default position to respect and protect a vote, and a ballot will be counted even if a name of a designated person is missing, that’s the effort California makes to ensure your ballot is counted, but that is not a defense for the person conducting these collection activities that they’re not liable,” Becerra said. “Make sure what you’re doing is done properly. Simply because a ballot is counted doesn’t mean you’re absolved of any liability if the conduct was in violation of the law.” Orange County Accusations On Oct. 15, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel, a Republican who is running to unseat Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Newport Beach), accused her opponent of hypocrisy for operating a voter collection hub that is essentially the same as the unofficial ballot boxes. Alyssa Napuri, Rouda’s campaign manger, struck back, saying they have followed and continue “to follow the letter of the law. Unlike Michelle Steel, and the California GOP, who continue to break California election law by operating unattended, unsecured, and illegal drop-off boxes. This continued flaunting of our local election laws is disqualifying, even for Orange County’s most corrupt politician.” Becerra said his office was aware of the accusations regarding Rouda’s campaign. “We will investigate any credible evidence that activities are in violation of election law,” Becerra said. “We know the Republican Party provided information on the Rouda campaign and we will follow up where we can to make sure the activities with ballot collection are done properly.” Barajas said, “We don’t want people to believe something nefarious is happening,” so if the party has to have a specific designated person sign the envelopes, then that’s what organizers will do. “We’re just asking for parity in the law,” Barajas said. “Treat us as you do Democrats.” Barajas said Republicans  were “late to the ballot harvesting” and are doing what they can to level the playing field. “This was a way to equalize things, to allow us to get into a ballot collection program,” he said. The party spokesman then wondered why other collection issues hadn’t been raised during the past few years by state officials. “If I go door-to-door and go to your home and pick up your neighbor’s ballot, was it in a backpack with a lock on it? Are they OK in the trunk of my car or in my room? None of that has come up, and that is what we’ve been asking,” said Barajas. “I would rather the ballots be secured in a metal lock box like we provide than some Santa bag or a backpack that the Democrats have been using for the last several years.” Drew Van Voorhis of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.

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President Trump to Make Fundraising Visit to Orange County

President Donald Trump is scheduled to make an appearance in Orange County on Oct. 18 to attend a private fundraiser at the estate of a Southern California tech entrepreneur. The fundraiser will take place on Oct. 18 at the Newport Beach home of Palmer Luckey, a tech mogul who is a member of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, and his wife, Nicole. The Lincoln Club—a pro-business, conservative political organization made up of many industry leaders throughout California—sent invitations to its members via email. “We are honored that the President is able to accommodate this last minute fundraiser as he is out working hard in all the battleground states,” the Lincoln Club email stated. “This event is expected to fill immediately.” Trump’s former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell is also scheduled to make a special appearance at the event, according to the invitation, which added “additional details will be provided upon RSVP.” The price of admission to the fundraiser varies, ranging from $150,000 per couple to be co-chairs of the event to $2,800 to simply attend the reception, according to the invitation. Other options include a $100,000 donation to be an individual co-chair, $50,000 per couple to be considered co-hosts, and $15,000 per couple to be sponsors of the event. Trump was originally scheduled to visit Orange County for an Oct. 6 event. The fundraiser was postponed when the president became hospitalized with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. Luckey, the host of the event, co-founded the Oculus Rift virtual-reality system in Irvine at the age of 19, then sold his company to Facebook in 2014 for an estimated $3 billion. The tech entrepreneur has donated $405,600 to Trump’s re-election campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. Presidential nominee Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee raised a record-breaking $383 million in September, according to fundraising totals released this week. Meanwhile, Trump and the Republican National Committee raised $247.8 million. Biden’s campaign also reportedly has more cash on hand, $432 million to Trump’s $251 million. Trump is also scheduled to visit Nevada on Oct. 18 and Arizona on Oct. 19 as part of his West Coast trip.

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