Supervisors decry moving target

County pushes against state penalty that prevents Kern from advancing into relaxed restrictions

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Supervisors decry moving targetKern County finally hit the target numbers outlined in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” But because of a last-minute adjustment that inflated our case numbers and positivity rate, our communities will not be able to move into the “Red Tier” that relaxes COVID-19 closures and restrictions.

“We scored a touchdown on Friday. We should have been able to move into the red,” said Kern County 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner. “We meet the standards, and then the rules change.”

As frustration mounts amid changing rules despite significantly lowered community transmission, all five supervisors voted to adopt a resolution requesting increased clarity and continuity from Newsom’s office.

Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop read the resolution into the public record at Tuesday’s board meeting.

He noted that when Newsom first declared a state of emergency on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial directive was to “flatten the curve” in order to prevent coronavirus cases to overwhelm the hospital system.

During the last six months, Kern County has partnered with the state in implementing the heightened restrictions and safety protocols in an attempt to reduce transmission.

On Aug. 28, Newsom unveiled the “Blueprint,” (covid19.ca.gov) which categorized nearly 90 percent of California’s population in the “Purple Tier,” which signifies “widespread” risk levels for COVID-19 infection. These counties, including Kern, would be required to adhere to the most stringent closures and restriction.

To advance into the “Red Tier,” which allows restaurants, movie theaters, hair and nail salons, movie theaters, fitness centers and other community operations to move into limited indoor operations, counties are required to achieve a new daily case rate of less than 7 per 100,000, and a positivity rate of no more than 8 percent.

However, on Sept. 7 Newsom introduced a penalty for counties whose tests rates are lower than the state average. Since Kern County was below that number — despite having more testing centers than any Central Valley community — the inflation to our case and positivity metrics put advancing into the next tier out of reach.

Scrivner said that the governor’s message from the beginning has been to flatten the curve in order to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

“Our numbers are better than they have been since the beginning — for both regular beds and ICU,” he said. “Our case numbers are down. Our positivity rate is down. We meet the requirements … this is moving the goal post on us.”

In the county’s resolution, supervisors acknowledge the seriousness of COVID, the importance of maintaining adequate health care capacity and the difficulty in driving down transmission.

However, Scrivner noted that testing is a voluntary activity.

He also noted that while the government plays a critical role in slowing the spread through the promotion of best practices, the biggest threat of infection comes from large private gatherings where public health guidelines are ignored.

The constantly changing directives “continue to whipsaw counties, complicating the crisis,” said Alsop, forcing officials to constantly change course, reprioritize and reposition at great expense with little or no clarity on how those actions will improve public health and safety.

The latest change has “complicated our progression into a less-restrictive tier. It’s now a moving target,” said Alsop. He said that state directives now seem, in some cases, to be in direct conflict with the guidance coming down from the Centers for Disease Control.

“Counties should be judged on simple, consistent, achievable and measurable objectives related to slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

In addition to sending a letter and copy of the resolution to state officials, copies will also be sent to the boards of the other 57 counties in California. Scrivner said that hopefully, those counties will adopt similar measures. “Other counties are frustrated as well … and there is power in numbers.”

Story First Published: 2020-09-25