Our county leadership, its Board of Supervisors and its Executive Officer, are not happy about California’s new effort to keep citizens safe during the global panedmic. One day after the governor announced the new regional approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19, one triggered when a region’s available intensive care unit (ICU) capacity drops below 15%, the county saw its own region’s available ICU capacity drop below 15%. In a message sent out to the county on Saturday morning, leadership gave voice to their unhappiness with the governor.
Their message followed Republican ``local control’’ talking points. They write that they are pushing back against Sacramento’s new efforts to protect people because (1) Ventura County should not be placed in the large Sounthern California region along side counties that compare poorly to ours, and (2) there’s insufficient data to warrant restrictions on local businesses. Many other counties were saying the same thing to their residents, so this message seems coordinated across the state.
Let’s assay these callous and selfish positions.
The first claim, of Ventura County’s exceptionalism in Sacramento’s regional framework, fell apart quickly before citizens received the email. Sometime between when they drafted their message (Friday afternoon) and the time it was sent out, the county’s own availble intensive care unit capacity was adjusted downward from 20+% to the triggering value of 15%. We are dragging our neighbors into a stay-at-home state and not the other way around.
The implied exceptionalism or their message should embarass county residents. We are more like our neighboring counties than we are different. Our county borders are pourus. Think back to summer when LA County was closing its beaches. My neighbors worried that LA residents would shift their coastal activites north to our beaches. Similarly, when one county in the region exhausts its ICU capacity, other neighbors will be there to take the seriously ill. In a pandemic, we need to loosen our grip on local control of the county and create inter-county systems were we can work together against the virus. Our county leadership has lost sight of this.
The second claim, that the state is not taking a scientific and data-driven approach to its public health measures rings especially hollow in our county. These Republican talking points could just as well be directed back at county leadership. We have online county COVID-19 dashboards and information pages, but there is no place to find information about results from contact tracing. In addition, the thin and repetitive county guidance on COVID-19 never mentions lessons learned from contact tracing. The exception might be their vague claims that contact tracing data shows that business activity is not spreading the virus in the county, but those claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Let’s look at the claim that commerce is not contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in the county. To listen to the leadership, one would think that contact tracing shows a clear and very high percentage of cases resulting from contacts in healthcare setting, in the home, at non-commercial work places, and in social settings. Let’s look. The contact tracing summaries we in Ventura County have can be found in the public record of meetings of the Board of Supervisors. Agenda item number eight on November 17th, ``Receive a Report Regarding the Novel Coronavirus and Associated Disease known as COVID- 19’’ is a slide deck that claims the county takes a data driven approach to public health. On slide 13 they report the sectors in which COVID cases have appeared to date, listing from Long Term Care Facilities (4.9%), Grocery and Food Services (1.9%), School (0.6%), and Other (8.5%). Presumably these are most prevalent setting, but they account for less than 16% of all the cases. Slide 14 shows that of the 464 cases discovered during the Halloween week, only 9.6% of cases were from large gatherings. Slide 15 lists sectors of statewise COVID cases as Healthcare Services (50%), Other (15%), Restaurants (7%), Schools (1%), and Private Homes (0.8%). These data tell us very little about the role of commerce in the spread of COVID-19, so for the county to imply that otherwise is disingenuous. If there is data our leaders are seeing and the public is not, datas that is shaping their anemic public healthcare policy, they should share it. Fair is fair.
Yes, contact tracing is hard and the people who subject to it resist implicating hosts and guests of gatherings that could have spread the virus. This difficulty erodes the quality of the data and weakens any arguments that rely on that data. It’s ridiculous that county leaders claim the data shows businesses should be held harmless as the virus burns through our county like a wildfire. The data just does not show that or the opposite.
As COVID-19 surges, county leaders needs to reflect on how they are communicating with citizens about the pandemic. During 2020, they’ve been phoning it in. Their strongest leadership takes the form of their consistent message, ``Community members are encouraged to wear masks, social distance, wash hands frequently and not gather.’’ How well is this working out for us?