Orange County’s chief health officer resigned Monday after several intense weeks defending her countywide mask order in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The mask order, which required that people wear cloth face coverings while in public, quickly stirred controversy in the county after Dr. Nichole Quick mandated it in late May. The order has faced scrutiny from residents and elected officials who have questioned the need for the widespread use of face coverings as businesses in the region reopen. That ire at times was directly aimed at Quick.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department provided security for Quick after she received what officials deemed to be a death threat during a county Board of Supervisors meeting last month.
During the meeting, a woman who identified herself as an attorney disparaged Quick’s experience in the medical field and read her home address aloud, saying she planned to take a group to Quick’s home and “do calisthenics in masks on her front doorstep” in an attempt to prove that face coverings are unsafe.
The woman echoed what other critics have said about face coverings posing a danger to people’s oxygen levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has previously said that children younger than 2 and anyone with a breathing issue should not wear a face covering.
“When people start dropping like flies, and they will, I am going to ask every first responder in a 30-mile radius to roll lights and sirens to her front door, and you had best pray they can revive whoever went down because if they can’t … I will be asking the O.C. D.A.’s office to charge it as murder,” she said.
Later that week, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Steel condemned the threat, saying, “It should never happen again.”
“No one deserves to be threatened or intimidated the way she was,” Steel said at the time.
During another Board of Supervisors meeting, some members of the public brought a poster with Quick’s photo on it with a Hitler mustache on her face and swastikas.
Quick could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning. The county board of supervisors appointed Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, as the county’s new health officer on Tuesday.
Quick is the third high-ranking healthcare executive to leave the county in the midst of the pandemic. David Souleles retired in April from his post as the deputy agency director of public health services. Weeks earlier, Richard Sanchez left his role as director of the county’s health care agency for a position with CalOptima.
During a board meeting last week, Supervisor Don Wagner, who has been a fierce advocate for reopening business and public services in the county, questioned the need for face coverings as he said other parts of the state were backing away from those orders.
Several surrounding counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, require residents to wear masks in public settings.
Quick responded that face coverings can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. She also noted that the county is seeing an increase in instances of community transmission of the virus and that hospitalization numbers have been trending upward.
“There is evidence to support that, and I feel strongly we need a face covering mandate in place as we continue to send more people back into social interactions,” she said.
On Monday, the county reported an additional 113 coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections to 7,527. County officials reported that 177 people have died from the virus countywide.
Orange County saw its largest two-day surge in the number of reported cases on Friday and Saturday, according to data provided by the county.
Nearly 300 new cases were reported Friday, marking the highest daily total since the onset of the pandemic, while 271 new cases were reported Saturday. This comes amid an increase in testing countywide.
As of Saturday, 291 people were hospitalized with the virus, and 135 of those individuals were in intensive care units.
City News Service contributed to this report.