A simple common reality returned to roost again up here in the wilds of Lassen County — one that’s sure to leave local government and business leaders worrying about the uncertain future lurking in the midst of a pesky pandemic, a somber reality that compels them to scratch their heads in wonder, question out loud the wisdom of decisions made in the far away governor’s office in Sacramento, decisions that profoundly effect us all, a reality that ultimately riles that most obvious and inevitable expression of indignant consternation: What are these people thinking? Again!
“On the COVID front, I don’t know if you saw the new matrix the state came up with,” Richard Egan, Lassen County administrator, told me this afternoon, “but it kind of changes things about who can open and when … We’re in disagreement with them about where they placed us on the chart, and we’re having some discussions about that.”
So, what in the world is Egan talking about?
“Basically there are four categories,” he explained, “and we’re second from the bottom — unlike all of our neighbors. We think it’s perhaps a miscalculation or something, but they haven’t provided us the data they based their decision on. So. We’ve asked them for that. We’re waiting for that.”
Sans data, Egan still had difficulty understanding how the state created its ranking system in the first place.
“The fundamental issue,” Egan said, “is they’re basing the criteria on data that was collected about three weeks ago, and then using that to project where you’re going to be two weeks from now — which makes no scientific sense at all. That’s kind of our biggest concern with it.”
And Egan couldn’t help but point out the lumbering but important elephant-in-the-room fact the suits and skirts in the state capitol somehow seem to have completely missed: “We have four cases, four active cases in the entire county,” A frustrated Egan said.
He also noted today’s reporting from the Centers for Disease Control that the COVID-19 virus may not be as deadly as originally thought for those who are not at high risk such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. And he added a powerful local anecdote to make his point.
“I do know out of all the cases we’ve had, no one’s gone to the hospital out of Lassen County,” Egan said.
He did say one prison inmate spent one night in the hospital due to the virus.
“General county — nobody,” Egan said. “I think that kind of speaks to the disease. It’s not nearly as bad as they’re making it out to be.”
Egan acknowledged the risk for some in the community, but he said, “For the vast majority of people, it’s not too bad.”
Anatomy of the conflict
OK, folks. Here are the gnarly details behind the story inquisitive minds want to know.
According to a Monday, Aug. 31 statement from the California Department of Public Health, “Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, a statewide plan for reducing COVID-19 and keeping Californians healthy and safe. The plan imposes risk-based criteria on tightening and loosening COVID-19 allowable activities and expands the length of time between changes to assess how any movement affects the trajectory of the disease.
“Californians can go to covid19.ca.gov to find out where their county falls and what activities are allowable in each county.”
According to that website, “California has a new blueprint for reducing COVID-19 in the state with revised criteria for loosening and tightening restrictions on activities. Find out how businesses and activities can open in counties statewide beginning on (sic) Aug. 31 … This guidance outlines an updated framework for a safe progression of opening more businesses and activities in light of the pandemic.”
The state framework, “lays out the measures that each county must meet, based on indicators that capture disease burden, testing and health equity.”
The case rate “will not include state and federal inmate cases,” according to the statement.
The state created four tiers in which to place the counties “based on risk of community disease transmission.”
Then, the CDPH will assess each county weekly, and a county must remain in a tier for three weeks before it will be eligible to advance to a higher numbered tier.
The highest risk — Widespread, Tier 1 — counties that have more than seven new cases per 100,000 of population per day (7 day average; 7 day lag) and a positive testing percentage of more than 8 percent per day (7 day average; 7 day lag).
Below that is — Substantial, Tier 2 — four to seven new cases per 100,000 of population per day (7 day average; 7 day lag), and a positive testing percentage of 5 to 8 percent (7 day average; 7 day lag). Think Lassen County.
Below that are — Moderate, Tier 2 (1-3.9 new cases per 100,000 of population per day (7 day average; 7 day lag), and a positive testing percentage of 2 to 4.9 percent (7 day average; 7 day lag) — and — Minimal, Tier 4 — (less than 1 new cases per 100,000 of population per day (7 day average; 7 day lag), and a positive testing percentage of less than 2 percent (7 day average; 7 day lag).
On the CDPH website, the state lists Lassen County at 0.0 cases per 100K and a positivity rate of .8 percent.
Thankfully the state gave us some advice on how we can help our county reach a lower tier.
- Wear a mask in public.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Keep at least six feet of physical distance when in public.
- Limit mixing with people you don’t live with.
And here’s the comforting lawyer talk regarding the “County Data Adjudication Process.”
According to the CDPH statement, “If a county finds that there is discrepancy between the county’s and state’s calculated data for the above defined measures, the county shall notify the County Data Monitoring Regional Coordinator. The county may request a meeting to discuss with local and state epidemiology leaders to compare data. In addition, CDPH will work with California Conference of Local Health Officers and County Health Executives Association of California to develop other methodologies to assess qualitative and contextual information impacting these metrics and the most appropriate interventions.
Once a discrepancy is adjudicated by CDPH, any updated tier status will be determined by CDPH and the tier status will be reflected on the public website within 48 hours, as appropriate.”
Oh, good. I feel so much better already.