Watch Lists

Governor Newsom of California introduced the idea of a county watchlist in mid-July as he ordered reimplementation of some of the restrictions placed on the state as a whole in mid-March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, it was announced that rather than state-wide restrictions, restrictions would be on a county-by-county basis. The six criteria by which counties would be evaluated are:

  • Are more than 150 COVID-19 tests per day per 100,0000 residents being administered? If yes, this is bad. If no, this is good.
  • Are there more than 100 new cases reported per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days? If so, this is bad. If the numbers are lower, this is good.
  • Are there more than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents, or more than an 8% positivity rate on on tests administered? No is good, yes is bad.
  • Has there been a 10% or greater increase in COVID-19 hospitalized patients over the past three days? No is good, yes is bad.
  • Are Intensive Care Units at 80% capacity or more? Yes is bad, no is good.
  • Are 75% or more of available ventilators being utilized? No is good, yes is bad.

Some of these criteria seem straightforward and others are somewhat nebulous. How many ventilators does my county have? How many could it obtain if needed? Who determines how many tests are administered and on what basis? My county is currently administering more than 200 tests per day on average, as of yesterday. Who decides that and on what basis? The other area of failure for my county is the cases reported per 100,000 residents a day. We’re at ~150 new cases per 100,000.

But what does this mean? Are there more than 150 new cases of active COVID-19 cases being discovered per day? Again, according the data provided on a daily basis from our County Public Health Department, no. Tests are administered, large numbers of cases are added to the reported total, but the number of actively infected people has remained constant or decreased since mid-July. Here are the numbers of ACTIVE COVID-19 CASES in our county, as gleaned from the e-mails Public Health sends out:

  • July 15 – 334
  • July 16 – 414
  • July 17 – 401
  • July 20 – 274
  • July 21 – 295
  • July 22 – 350
  • July 23 – 361
  • July 24 – 369
  • July 27 – 308
  • July 28 – 333
  • July 30 – 290
  • July 31 – 249
  • August 4 – 227
  • August 6 – 205
  • August 7 – 198
  • August 10 – 306
  • August 12 – 310
  • August 14 – 290
  • August 17 – 278

Our County reached a peak level of infections in late July, and has remained consistently well below that peak ever since, despite a slight spike the second week of August. An average rate of 304 cases per provided data point from the County. The State of California claims our infection rate per 100,000 residents is just over 150. But that apparently is a measure of all positive test results rather than active, current infections. Why this is the measure I don’t understand, frankly, other than that it’s an attempt to mitigate obvious errors in reporting and other mistakes human beings make all the time, and which California in particular has had a good share of in the past few months, culminating in the resignation of the state’s highest public health official.

Still problematic to me that you would shutter entire industries, curtail Constitutional rights all for an infection that on average over the last month has affected roughly 7% of our county population and resulted in only 80 deaths over the past five months.

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