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COVID-19 Is Pummeling Orange County's Poorest Cities

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Orange County Labor Federation rally on Tuesday was shouted out by anti-maskers. Screenshot via Facebook
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Orange County has seen a 50% increase in COVID-19 cases since last week and some cities are getting hit much harder than others.

More than 40% of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in Orange County live in Santa Ana and Anaheim, even though these cities make up just over 20% of the county's total population.

Infection rates in the two cities — measured as the number of cases per 100,000 residents — are much higher than in the county's other, large cities. For example, Santa Ana's infection rate is more than six times higher than Irvine's rate and nearly three times higher than Huntington Beach's rate.

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UC Irvine public health professor Andrew Noymer said the disproportionate effect of the virus in Santa Ana and Anaheim could be attributed to a combination of factors, including a large number of people in those cities who work in the service industry and live in overcrowded housing.

“It was never going to be the case that all communities are affected the same,” he said.

Santa Ana and Anaheim are among the poorest cities in OC and have the highest percentage of adults without health insurance, according to a county dashboard based on census data.

Both cities are also majority Latino, a demographic that has been especially hard hit by the virus.

PUBLIC-FACING WORKERS MOST EXPOSED

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Noymer said because many residents of Anaheim and Santa Ana work in the service industry, they are continually exposed to infection.

“Someone who works at a grocery store is exposed for eight hours a day to hundreds of people," he said.

Workers at Disneyland, which is Anaheim's top employer, have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to block the park’s planned reopening in late July fearing continual exposure to the coronavirus. (Disney has posted a detailed summary of the steps it’s taking to protect park visitors and staff, including face coverings for guests and social distancing.)

Orange County's acting health officer Clayton Chau told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that a task force had been formed in conjunction with school districts and community clinics to address the high rate of coronavirus infection in Anaheim and Santa Ana.

'MASK, MASK, MASK, MASK, MASK'

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Noymer, the UC Irvine professor, said one of the most important things people can do to prevent infection is to cover their faces in public.

"People throughout the Southland need to mask," he said. "Mask, mask, mask, mask, mask."

Earlier this month, Orange County's chief health officer resigned after receiving threats for requiring face coverings in public. Chau later changed the requirement to a "strong recommendation."

But just days later, Gov. Gavin Newsom made wearing masks in public a requirement statewide.

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