Kern County’s chief administrative officer threw down the gloves Thursday, Sept. 10, days after the State of California artificially adjusted metrics in the county’s COVID-19 metrics.
The metrics, according to CAO Ryan Alsop, offset the lower average of people being tested compared to the state numbers. Kern County remains in the purple tier of a new color-coded, four-tier system Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled out weeks ago to streamline tracking metrics.
Kern’s metrics are improving, Alsop said, but the new inflation makes it more difficult to re-open.
“We’re making strong progress on our case rate numbers and our testing positivity rate and we are looking to move into the state’s red tier as soon as possible,” Alsop said. He called the “arbitrary system” to an already slow process even slower for counties like Kern to re-open.
“We don’t know what it is intended to achieve other than to keep our economy locked down the way it is for a longer period of time and to keep parents out of work and their children out of the classroom longer,” Alsop said.
Because of that, most non-essential businesses in Kern remain closed to in-door services and the county must make progressive advancement on certain metrics for 21 days before it moves to the red, or second-most restrictive level.
Kern’s metrics, according to Public Health Director Matt Constantine, are measured by case rate, or daily number of new positive cases averaged over seven days and the percentage of people who’ve tested positive over seven days. Both have a seven-day lag.
The state updates its metrics weekly.
Constantine said “we are close to that limit and close to moving into the next tier because those numbers have trended down over the last couple of weeks.”
On Sept. 10, the testing average was 126 people per 100,000 people (versus the state average of 217 per 100,000). Under the new guidelines imposed by Newsom on Sept. 8, counties that test below the state average, which was 1,000 people, Kern’s adjustments are adjusted negatively.
Because of that, Kern’s rate of positive cases went from 7.8 per 100,000 people to 9.2 per 100,000. To remove that modifier, Kern County needs to boost testing by an additional 877 people per day.
Alsop accused the state of constantly “moving the goalpost” for re-opening with little or no warning, making it difficult for counties to keep up.
“Counties up and down the state are literally being whipsawed by these constant changes,” he said.
Alsop added those changes are implemented by state public health officials and the Newsom administration with little or no buy-in from the state’s 58 counties. Counties are “given heads up literally just hours before the state makes a new announcement on what the governor will now require.”
The new testing measures are just one example.
“We simply cannot force people to go get tested even though we have the availability that we do,” Alsop said. He added that the constant changes have placed a stress on the county’s finances and workforce and on its business community.
“Counties are doing the work here, Governor,” he said. “Having to continually change our course and our priorities are hurting our business community and our children are bearing the brunts of these actions.”
Alsop thanked Kern County businesses and organizations that have helped the county in navigating “the extraordinary course we have undertaken to deal with COVID-19.”
“The work we are doing is paying off,” Alsop said. “The curve is being flattened, the work, time, money put into maintaining our hospital capacity is showing results.”
Kern County has over the last few months helped hospitals cope with COVID-19 cases, including allocating $12 million to bring in outside nursing and staffing capacity to area hospitals. Hospital capacity was previously used as a metric, but the new tier system abolished it.
The county maintains a readiness alternative medical overflow center at the Kern County Fairgrounds to handle non-COVID-19 related cases to alleviate bed space. Alsop also noted it’s facilitated massive testing capacity across the county.
He noted hospital bed capacity remains high and impacts on hospitals level but “at great expense to the county.”
“We’ve poured tens of millions of dollars into the local economy and implemented many programs assisting the most vulnerable people in our community to provide them with critical assistance,” Alsop said.
Like Constantine, Alsop noted because of those achievements, Kern has made solid progress in its attempts to curb COVID-19.
“We are ready to move into the state’s red tier as soon as possible,” he said. “Moving into this tier will allow more of our local businesses to open just a bit wider -- and that matters.”
“Governor, Kern County joins other counties in demanding you stop moving the goalposts on us. We demand that you work more closely with us,” Aslop said. “We are demanding that you do not arbitrarily assign a penalty because our population is not going in to get weekly tests. We are demanding that you do not make the situation any harder on our business community and our kids than it already is. We are demanding that you reevaluate and change this course of action to reflect our actual numbers.”
Alsop said he understands Newsom’s job is difficult and “that he is doing the very best that he can” but added his public health team “needs to work more closely with counties and better understand these directives and why they matter.”