California officials are ignoring information requests for COVID-19 data, keeping it hidden from the public despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pledge for transparency in making decisions regarding ongoing lockdowns and business restrictions.
In late May, a public records request was filed by the Center for American Liberty seeking data and the science from the California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Agency that was utilized to make lockdown decisions beginning Oct. 1, 2019.
The director of CAL, Mark Trammell, said California officials pointed his organization to the state website while going on to withhold other information under a “deliberative process” exception, which is often employed to exempt the state from its obligation to release requested records to the public, Fox News reported.
One of the most negatively impacted activities was the ability to hold indoor religious services, which Newsom has strictly prohibited. The CAL, for instance, had sought data justifying why indoor services were prohibited while many retailers were allowed to continue operating.
“If it’s safe enough to go to a marijuana dispensary or Macy’s or Costco that same standard should apply to parishioners in our congregation they should be able to sep in pews and wear a mask,” he told Fox News.
But “with the state starting to emerge from its worst surge,” Newsom’s “administration won’t disclose key information that will help determine when his latest stay-at-home order is lifted,” The Associated Press reported Friday.
The reason, say California health officials, is that the state does not want to cause confusion with potentially misleading information because they claim to have relied “on a very complex set of measurements,” the AP added.
But there is widespread — and growing — disagreement with the Newsom administration’s decision to keep the data hidden.
“There is more uncertainty created by NOT releasing the data that only the state has access to,” Dr. Lee Riley, chairman of the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health’s infectious disease division, told the AP.
Releasing the data would provide outside experts the opportunity to potentially project future virus trends and, importantly, assess the effectiveness of mitigation strategies utilized by Newsom’s government.
In March, the Democratic governor imposed the nation’s first statewide COVID-19 lockdown. Until early last month, California employed a four-tier system of benchmarks to reopen its economy, which was implemented on a county-by-county basis.
However, after Thanksgiving, Newsom’s administration ditched the more locally-focused assessment system, replacing it with five regions whose reopening would depend on just one measurement — hospital ICU bed capacity. Under the new requirement, each region had to maintain a greater than 15 percent ICU capacity in order for stay-at-home orders to be lifted.
However, Fox News reported that the new system was not as clear-cut as it may have been. A month earlier, Newsom adopted a so-called “equity component” which was designed to consider alleged racial health disparities, meaning “local officials had to curb the virus not just county-wide but particularly in lower-income communities,” the outlet reported.
What made the system even more complex was the additional weighted percentage component that officials used to determine ICU availability. Regions like Southern California were penalized more heavily because they had a higher proportion of COVID-19 patients.
As such, when Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions are listed as having zero-percent ICU capacity, it really means that most patients occupying ICU beds are coronavirus patients, not that there are no ICU beds available at all, according to Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious-diseases control expert at University of California, San Francisco.
Fox News reported that at the beginning of last week, it appeared as though none of the five regions in California were above the 15 percent capacity. However, suddenly officials announced that the lockdown order for the 13 counties surrounding the Greater Sacramento region would be lifted.
That meant outdoor dining, religious services salons, and other business actives could begin again.
“What happened to the 15 percent? What was that all about?” Rutherford asked. “I was surprised. I assume they know something I don’t.”
According to Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for CHHS, projected bed capacity is based on several variables that include actual beds, staffing, and other factors.
“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,” she told Fox News.
Trammell wasn’t buying that explanation, however.
“That is the peak of hubris. The idea that just because one works for a state agency makes one more qualified or more intelligent to understand data or scientific research, it’s just delusional,” he told the outlet.
“If the science is so compelling to justify what the state has done, the governor should be enthusiastically looking to share this research with as many people as he can,” he added.
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