California recorded by far the highest number of Covid-19 deaths it has seen in the pandemic on Monday. But the shocking loss of 764 lives may not have been the biggest news related to the virus in the state. The generally better news regarding Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations was also not.
On Friday, the Associated Press published a bomb story alleging that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration kept secret the data calculations by which it justified one of the longest and tightest lockdowns in the country.
Newsom announced a regional approach to closures as cases increased after Thanksgiving. It divided the state into five regions and imposed closures if a region’s ICU capacity fell below 15%. Most of the state was quickly found to be below this threshold.
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But this threshold was not as clear as it seemed. Newsom has long said there will be an “equity component” taken into account in reopenings to explain how regions fare in relation to their traditionally underserved populations.
State health officials did not take into account the number of available intensive care beds, but how many were actually staffed and available for adults infected with Covid-19 – a good number of care beds intensive were NICUs or installed for children.
Adding to the confusion, according to the AP report, “The state uses a weighted percentage to determine the capacity of the ICU. Patients with COVID-19 tend to need longer care, penalizing areas like southern California that have a higher proportion. “
These factors have been made public ad hoc by the administration, adding to the confusion and suspicion already engendered by the chaos of a pandemic.
Asked by Deadline if it was clear how the ICU’s regional percentages were determined, LA County Scientific Director Paul Simon said, “I can’t really comment. I haven’t seen the news. I don’t really know what considerations were taken in this threshold. “
He is not alone.
At the start of last week, no region seemed unlikely to see its stay-at-home order lifted anytime soon as its capacity was well below 15%. But in one day, the state announced it was lifting the order for the Greater Sacramento area to 13 counties.
Suddenly alfresco dining and worship services were OK again, hair and nail salons and other businesses could reopen, and retailers could have more shoppers inside.
Local officials and businesses were caught off guard. State officials did not describe their reasoning except to say that it was based on a projection of the capacity of the USI.
In fact, on Friday, the state regional stop card listed the Sacramento area at just 9% of its critical care capacity. It may have fallen from the week before, but how those numbers came up was still a mystery.
This is confusing, as Newsom has said throughout the pandemic that he is committed to transparency and data-driven decision-making.
Even more puzzling is the response reportedly given to AP by Department of Public Health spokeswoman Ali Bay. “At the moment, the screenings are not shared publicly,” she said in an email.
Kate Folmar, spokeswoman for the California Health and Human Services Agency, told AP that the administration is committed to transparency, providing twice-weekly updates on regional shutdowns.
For the record, Governor Gavin Newsom has not given any of his updates on the pandemic. His chief lieutenant Covid, HHS Secretary Mark Ghaly, answered questions from reporters on Tuesday, but that was it. Newsom last answered questions from reporters at a Covid event in the Los Angeles area last Friday. No major update was given during this event on regional closures.
HHS spokesman Folmar said the ICU capacity figures forecast regionally are based on several variables, including available beds and staff who change regularly.
“These fluid conditions on the ground cannot be boiled down to a single data point – and it misleads and creates greater uncertainty for Californians,” she said in a statement.