California, land of delusion

The latest verbal gymnastics our local San Francisco Bay Area, 11 o’clock news team tried and failed to explain was why, when COVID cases are rapidly plummeting, we are not opening the state. There are only five counties that have “graduated” out of the deadly Purple Tier as of this morning.

After months of touting the so-called crisis in ICU capacity, now we get no mention of that issue. Instead, we’re treated to ten minutes of proud stories about massive new vaccination sites. These are immediately followed by stories about the lack of available vaccine doses. It’s almost funny. We are exhorted to do our duty and get vaccinated, for the common good, if we can find any vaccine. I know people who desperately wanted it and had to drive for hours to locate doses. Personally, I wouldn’t get the vaccine. But that’s another story.

We did get our outdoor dining restored in my county, but only in the last week or so. Many of our restaurants are understandably cautious, since they put a lot of time, energy, and cash into opening in November, only to be shut down again in December. The wintery weather added to their caution. Who wants to eat outside when it’s raining and 53° F? We are warming up, so that may change.

The gist of the news report, as confusing as it sounded, was that we measured our “tiers” of closure based on data showing the spread of the virus. The criteria are the number of new cases per 100,000 residents, along with the percentage of cases compared to the overall tests that they’ve done in any rolling seven-day period.

The state website also cautions that “Tier assignments may occur any day of the week and may occur more than once a week when the California Department of Public Health determines…that immediate action is needed….” In other words, what the State giveth, it can taketh away in a moment.

So back to the data.... What’s the problem? Both criteria are bogus. What’s a “case”? Is it someone in the ICU or just someone who tested positive? I’ve looked up that definition, and it’s a bunch of either/or/and mumbo-jumbo that seems to get redefined frequently.

Let’s posit that a “case” is someone with (a) a positive test and (b) symptoms. Symptoms include having two (or more) from a long menu. Pneumonia, olfactory changes, respiratory distress, etc. Those are, of course, symptoms that could mean more than one diagnosis.

We’ve seen over time, that the tests themselves are not accurate. Remember in November, when Elon Musk got four done, same day, same test, same machinery, and half were negative, half positive? Remember when they sent goat and pawpaw samples to be tested in Tanzania last April and both tested positive?

The percentage of positive tests in a seven-day span is the second criterion. Think about it: Healthy people don’t want to be tested unnecessarily. The people being tested are (a) travelers who must get one to fly, (b) medical professionals exposed continually, and (c) people who are worried that they have COVID. If you are a normal person, feeling just fine, why get a test? Therefore, the percentage of positive tests is still high, and we sit at our purple shut-down tier, twiddling our thumbs.

The newsreader awkwardly suggested that we all “do our duty” and go for a test, whether we need one or not. That way, the percentages would go down, and we can magically descend to the next, better tier. That being red, where we can resume some normal activity.

The rules that govern each tier are numerical. Purple is defined as seven new “cases” per 100,000, and more than 8% positive tests in any given 7-day period. It means we’re shut down, except that stores can open at 25% capacity and groceries at 50%. No rhyme or reason for that, other than mutiny if the groceries were to be closed. I’ve been cheek-to-jowl with the crowds in Costco, which doesn’t seem to have limited capacity at all, probably because the space is so large. Magically, we all survived.

When we magically get to the red tier, we can open a few things. Gyms at 10% capacity. The zoo at 25%. Higher ed, at 25%, and primary and secondary education at the “discretion of local officials.” But that’s another story.

What it will take for us to resume normal life, “with modifications” is one or fewer "cases" per 100,000 and 2% or less of positive tests. Anyone taking bets on when we get there?

IMAGE: California in perpetual lockdown. California Safer Economy website.