California Hiding COVID Data From Public, Says Releasing Information Would Confuse Residents
Gov. Gavin Newsom holds up a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on December 14, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Jae C. Hong-Pool/Getty Images

When the coronavirus pandemic first began, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) claimed his decisions would be based on science and data, which would be shared with Californians to ensure transparency.

The Associated Press reported, however, that Newsom’s administration has been hiding COVID-19 data, saying that data is too complex for Californians to understand. The hidden data relates to how the California government projects intensive care unit (ICU) capacity. Just days before President Joe Biden was inaugurated, California’s daily updated map of ICU capacity showed that the state’s stay-at-home order wouldn’t be lifted any time soon, yet just a day later, the AP reported, suddenly the order was lifted for the Greater Sacramento area.

“Suddenly, outdoor dining and worship services were OK again, hair and nail salons and other businesses could reopen, and retailers were allowed more shoppers inside,” the AP reported. “Local officials and businesses were caught off guard. State officials did not describe their reasoning other than to say it was based on a projection for ICU capacity. State health officials relied on a complex formula to project that while the Sacramento region’s intensive care capacity was below 10%, it would climb above 15% within four weeks. On Friday, it was 9%, roughly the same as when the order was lifted.”

California Health and Human Services Agency spokeswoman Kate Folmar told the AP that the sudden decision was based on a complex set of data that included bed availability and staffing.

“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,” Folmar said in a statement regarding the lack of transparency.

Stakeholders are not happy, the AP reported:

First Amendment Coalition Executive Director David Snyder urged the state to change course.

“The state is wielding extraordinary power these days — power to close businesses, to directly impact people’s livelihoods and even lives — and so it owes it to Californians to disclose how and why it makes those decisions,” said Snyder, whose California public interest organization fights for greater government openness.

“Secrecy,” he said, “is exactly the wrong approach here and will only breed further mistrust, confusion and contempt for the crucial role of government in bringing us out of this crisis.”

Restaurants, among other businesses, would benefit by being able to watch trends toward reopening so they could start ordering supplies and rehiring workers, California Restaurant Association president and CEO Jot Condie said.

Last week’s sudden easing of restrictions “was a good surprise, but we just didn’t see it coming,” Condie said. “We just don’t know what happens behind the curtain.”

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said hospital and nursing home admissions were slowing and that the state was showing lower positivity and transmission rates, though the state’s data model still shows increasing hospitalizations.

California has struggled to not only get the virus under control but also appear realistic in terms of restrictions. Restaurants and many other businesses are closed, yet Hollywood was still able to film.

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