California is keeping certain COVID-19 statistics a secret from its citizens over concerns that the data may be confusing or even misleading to the public.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, after changing reopening requirements for the state, refuses to make it clear how the new system works.
“At the moment the projections are not being shared publicly,” California Department of Public Health spokeswoman Ali Bay said in an email.
Around Thanksgiving, Newsom announced that rather than taking a county-by-county approach, as it had been prior, the state would now be divided into five regions for purposes of measuring the area’s readiness for relaxed coronavirus restrictions. Regions with less than 15% intensive care unit capacity would be told to shut down much of their activity.
“These fluid, on-the-ground conditions cannot be boiled down to a single data point — and to do so would mislead and create greater uncertainty for Californians,” California Health and Human Services Agency spokeswoman Kate Folmar said in a statement.
“They’re making projections and decisions that have great consequence to people’s lives,” California Restaurant Association President and CEO Jot Condie added. “It’s a public agency, so it’s just curious why they wouldn’t share the data, especially with the local health officers. They need advance warning as well.”
After initially being told it had to close down because it fell below the threshold, the greater Sacramento area was then told it could reopen.
“It was a good surprise, but we just didn’t see it coming,” Condie said. “We just don’t know what happens behind the curtain. It’s created logistical difficulties for the industry.”
It became clear that at-the-time ICU capacity was not the only measure being used to allow states to reopen. Using an unknown calculation, the state has been predicting future capacity.
“What happened to the 15%? What was that all about?” George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases control expert at University of California, San Francisco, asked. “I was surprised. I assume they know something I don’t know.”