Virus notes: April 3, 2020

MERCED (BLJ) – As the lady doctor with the fabulous collection of chic silk scarves who appears with Trump daily to scold us on our failure to behave hygienically says, “Granularity” and “The Curve” are the watchwords of the day. Who knows what she means? It doesn’t matter. Her voice and manner must be reassuring to somebody. We just don’t know who. In other words, she must be there for some reason.

Or not. In the first place, causality is a very vague concept in the Trump administration. Secondly, the only cause of importance now is the course of the virus.

The Merced County Public Health Department has updated their updates and now present the daily figures in neat boxes, in the style of Fresno and other sophisticated counties. But still missing since last week is the number of people that have been tested. The cause?

Well, here’s the explanation again, unchanged from the last posting of it here.

UPDATE ON TESTING FIGURES: Until further notice, updated numbers regarding individuals tested for COVID-19 will no longer be included in these updates. The daily figure that has previously been provided only included the total number of people tested within the public health system, but not the commercial lab system, hospitals and clinics (the Public Health Department is not provided those numbers). Due to a significant increase in commercial lab system tests, that daily total would not be an accurate portrayal of how many people have been tested at this time. Following the example of other counties, the Public Health Department is currently working on a new process to more comprehensively capture negative testing results from all lab sources for inclusion on future reports. The Public Health Department already captures, and releases, all positive testing results. 


It’s no more forthcoming than when we last looked at it. It alleges that because of in increase in commercial testing, the public will be denied access to the number of people tested by the county public health department. Does this mean that the perfect is the enemy of the good?

Has this suppression of imperfect information helped in any way? Merced County ranks near the bottom of compliance with “sheltering in place”  according study using GPS surveying.

We hope Merced County and other counties soon work out how to get a more accurate figure of the number of tests given in the county. Right now it is a scandalous example of rationing of vital diagnostic testing according to economic privilege. We are not implying that this is completely or even mainly the fault of the county, which is now operating two testing sites at secret locations available only on a doctor’s reference. But it would be better for the public if the public health  department would give us an idea of how many people have been tested so that we would know how well the local health system was functioning. Unless, of course, the whole system is scandalously lax, unprepared, and devoting its public outreach to CYA utterance.

On Thursday, Apri1 2, there were 16 confirmed cases, an increase of four since April 1.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom soldiers on, trying to plug the cracks in the economic system yawning wider by the day.



Los Angeles Times

Californians won’t have water service turned off for unpaid bills during coronavirus crisis, Newsom says

John Myers

Californians won’t have their water turned off due to unpaid bills during the coronavirus crisis, and those who already had it turned off will have their service restored, under action taken Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The governor’s directive comes in response to calls from environmental justice organizations for assistance to low-income residents facing mounting financial pressures.

“This executive order will help people who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring they have water service,” Newsom said in a written statement after hinting at the action during an event broadcast online. “Water is critical to our very lives, and in this time it is critically important that it is available for everyone.”

The decision also requires that residential water service be restored to those who had it turned off for lack of payment since March 4, when the statewide coronavirus emergency went into effect.

“People are under enormous pressure economically and the last thing they need to worry about now is not having access to water,” said Steve Fleischli, senior director of water initiatives at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

More than 100 private and public water agencies had already offered help to customers unable to pay their bills, according to Newsom’s office.

Governors in several other states, including Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina, have issued similar orders ensuring that water service won’t be denied to those who don’t pay their bills.

Fleischli said that while the decision by Newsom is welcome news, it won’t help those struggling Californians who had water service shut off due to unpaid bills prior to the public health crisis.

“We think everyone should be connected,” he said. Nor does it address the needs of rural communities that rely on bottled supplies because of contaminants in tap water.

The financial impact to water agencies remains unclear, as does whether the state government might agree to replace lost operating dollars.

Newsom’s order includes small businesses in the moratorium for water shutoffs, though that would likely only apply to those following state or local directives permitting only “essential” businesses to remain open. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti approved water shutoffs to nonessential businesses that refuse to close their doors.

The governor also announced on Thursday an additional boost to small business owners, granting them a one-year delay in paying up to $50,000 in sales taxes — money paid by customers and normally sent every month to government officials.

“In essence, it is a bridge loan,” the governor said of the new effort during his webcast. “The money that you’ve already collected, you will not have to pay the state for 12 months. No penalties, no interest — de facto a loan.”

Newsom issued an executive order on Monday that gave businesses until the end of July to comply with sales tax filings. The action taken Thursday pushes out the requirements to a full year. Only businesses that have $5 million or less in taxable sales would be eligible.

But the relief for some business owners could come at the expense of local services. A sizable portion of sales taxes, though sent by businesses to the state, is later returned to cities and counties across California. Dozens of communities have enacted their own local sales taxes, either to pay for basic programs such as public safety or to boost other government services.

A 2018 report by the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office found that slightly more than half of all annual sales and use taxes goes back to local needs.

Newsom’s decision to allow a business to hold onto $50,000 of those tax revenues could mean reduced funds in the coming months for a variety of vital city and county services.

“It’s unclear how this initiative will be implemented, but it simply cannot occur in a manner that redirects county funding and erodes the very services most in need,” Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Assn. of Counties, said in a written statement. “Counties face dire cash flow challenges due to COVID-19 costs to protect communities and cannot absorb a significant loss of sales tax revenue that would directly impact funding for public safety, public health and behavioral health services.”

A spokesman for the California Department of Finance said there was no immediate plan to replace the delayed local funds with an equal amount of state tax revenue. Newsom has allocated some, but not all, of the $1 billion in emergency response funds approved by the Legislature last month.