California Coronavirus Update: Governor Gavin Newsom’s Little-Noticed Reopening Requirement Could Trip L.A. Up

When Governor Gavin Newsom introduced California’s new “simplified” coronavirus tiering system that indicates to what extent a county can reopen, there was one important aspect that received little to no attention.

Newsom said on Friday that the color-coded rankings would be predicated on two epidemiological measures: the number of cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity rates.

There will also be an “emergency brake” condition that can be employed if a county’s hospitalization numbers become worrisome.

But later in his presentation, Newsom mentioned that the state is also considering “equity” among its many populations as a factor.

The equity component received little more than a mention in most coverage — if that — and Newsom did not stress the point.

But on Monday, at the tail end of a news conference, the state’s head of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, explained that “health equity benchmarks” would be an important factor in determining county reopenings.

Ghaly:

Because CA is focused on equity, because so many of our disproportionately impacted populations work in so many of the business sectors that are beginning to see increased numbers of patrons…thereby increasing potential exposure risk for those essential workers that have been disproportionately impacted, it has been an important part of our entire framework to focus on equity. Adding an equity framework is our intention. We had hoped it would be ready and I could share it with you. We aren’t quite there yet. We want to make sure that we get good input from not just our state and county partners, but also from community partners who have been working with us all along on decreasing disparities and focusing on equity.

Ghaly went on to say that California officials had looked both overseas and stateside for an appropriate framework to emulate, but none really apply specific measurables to the task. Such requirements might include “focusing on testing and contact tracing and isolation or one of the other metrics,” said Ghaly.

The California Department of Public Health website includes the following under guidelines to advance from one tier to another:

In addition, the state will establish health equity measures on activities such as data collection, testing access, contact tracing, supportive isolation, and outreach that demonstrate a county’s ability to address the most impacted communities within a county. Additional measures addressing health outcomes such as case rates, hospitalizations and deaths, will also be developed and tracked for improvement.

The HHS chief confirmed that the equity benchmarks would be released soon.

Over the past few months, Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer has repeatedly emphasized the inequalities among Angelenos of different ethnicities when it comes to the virus. Ferrer has often said the county sees a “disproportionately higher number of deaths from COVID-19 among black and brown people.”

Given that, L.A. may have another significant hurdle to clear before reopening.

As for when we’ll get a look at the equity guidelines, “Stay tuned,” said Ghaly. “We want to make sure that we really have it be up to the task here in California. So just a little bit more time before we’re able to announce that.”

In the meantime, California’s coronavirus numbers mostly held steady on Tuesday.

The state reported 3,712 new cases, for a total of 707,797 since the pandemic began.

There were 85 new deaths, for a total of 13,018.

The 14-day test positivity rate was 5.3 percent.

Hospitalizations and ICU beds in use by COVID patients continued to to decline.

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