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Ventura County officials were forced Wednesday to apologize and clarify that those who could not isolate or quarantine themselves would never be forcibly removed from their homes as part of an effort to further contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Video circulated on social media showed Dr. Robert Levin, the director of Ventura County Public Health, speaking before the board of supervisors Tuesday about a plan to hire up to 50 new “contact tracing investigators” to “find people who have COVID-19 and immediately isolate them, find every one of their contacts, make sure they stay quarantined and check in with them every day.”
Levin admitted his poor messaging during another press conference Wednesday, stressing those who test positive or who are identified by officials as having come in contact with an infected person would not be forcibly removed from their homes.
“I either misspoke or it was misinterpreted – I’ll take the blame of having misspoke,” Levin said. “Yesterday, at this conference, at the Board of Supervisors, I gave people the impression that if you were isolated, you would be taken out of your home and put into a hotel room or a motel room or sequestered in some other way.”
“If I did do that, I am very sorry," he said. "That is an option. That is possible. If you become infected, you don’t want to stay in your home, you’re afraid that you’ll expose other people, we’ll work with you to find a place to stay. And, it’s likely to be a hotel of a motel. We will desire for you to have your own room in your place of residence and a bathroom that can be dedicated to just you. Now, not everyone is fortunate enough to have more than one bathroom, so we’ll work with you.”
Levin added that out of the county's some 600 confirmed coronavirus cases, "only in very, very unusual circumstances, we’ve had to put someone up in a hotel or motel and this was for reasons which have nothing to do with your choice of staying in your household."
His apology came after several social media users, including one prominent anti-vaxxer, suggested the county would forcibly remove children who tested positive for COVID-19 from their parents’ homes and place them in quarantine centers.
“WHAT WOULD YOU DO if your six year old son or daughter tested positive for COVID19 and was taken from your home to a quarantine center by Ventura Health Authorities? This SHOCKING VIDEO demands that you plan ahead. #BeBrave #HistoryRepeating” Del Bigtree, the CEO of the anti-vaccination group Informed Consent Action Network, tweeted Tuesday.
Attached to his tweet was an edited clip from the board of supervisors' meeting. In part, Levin said: “For instance, if they live in a home where there is only one bathroom and there are three or four other people living there and those people don’t have COVID infection, we’re not going to be able to keep the person in that home. Every person we’re isolating, for instance, needs to have their own bathroom. So, we’ll be moving people like this into other kinds of housing that we have available.”
Speaking to Fox News Wednesday, Natalie Hernandez, a Ventura County assistant public information officer, said local officials offer a “completely optional service” for family members who feel the need to self-isolate to protect loved ones.
“We’re not forcibly removing people,” she said, adding that contact investigators are licensed nurses who make phone calls notifying people who have come in contact with another individual who has tested positive so that they know to self-isolate.
Further explaining himself Wednesday, Levin said: “Yesterday, yes, at the Board of Supervisors, I spoke to issues related to isolation and quarantine, and how we were going to step up our program. We were going to increase by 10, 20, maybe 50 people to help us locate people and make sure they’re in quarantine or make sure they’re in isolation.
"If you have the illness and you stay in your own quarters or in your hospital room, that’s called isolation," he continued. “If you don’t have the illness, but you were exposed to someone who did, but we want to watch you for the period of incubation, where you might come down with the illness and might be contagious and give it to someone else, that’s called quarantine."
“We’re looking to not only isolate everyone, but we’re looking to quarantine the contacts of the isolates we have who have COVID disease. Now, we’re going to get – because of increased manpower and because of increased testing – more and more meticulous in our ability to do this," he said. “And, what we anticipate that’s going to happen as a result of this, is that we’re going to drive our numbers way down and that’s what we want to see.”
Ventura County – located about 60 miles northwest of hotspot Los Angeles – has recorded a low number of cases compared to the rest of the state. Levin said Wednesday the county recorded just 13 new confirmed coronavirus cases and no new deaths within the last 24-hour period.
At least 19 people have died in Ventura County after contracting the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, 23 COVID-19 patients – including 11 in ICU units -- remained hospitalized across the county’s eight hospitals, Levin said. Some 12,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted.