It's a secret: California keeps key virus data from public

Full Screen
1 / 5

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services, discusses the coronavirus as Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, listens at a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. Sacramento area officials were caught off guard when the state public health agency lifted the regional stay-at-home order, allowing businesses like barber and beauty shops and nail salons, to reopen, restaurants to offer outdoor dining, and houses of worship to offer outdoor services. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom has from the start said his coronavirus policy decisions would be driven by data shared with the public to provide maximum transparency.

But with the state starting to emerge from its worst surge, his administration won’t disclose key information that will help determine when his latest stay-at-home order is lifted.

State health officials said they rely on a very complex set of measurements that would confuse and potentially mislead the public if they were made public.

After Newsom, a Democrat, imposed the nation’s first statewide shutdown in March, his administration developed reopening plans that included benchmarks for virus data such as per capita infection rates that counties needed to meet to relax restrictions.

It released data models state officials used to project whether infections, hospitalizations and deaths are likely to rise or fall.

As cases surged after Thanksgiving, Newsom tore up his playbook. Rather than a county-by-county approach, he created five regions and established a single measurement — ICU capacity — as the determination for whether a region was placed under a stay-at-home order.

In short order, four regions — about 98% of the state’s population — were under the restrictions after their capacity fell below the 15% threshold. A map updated daily tracks each region’s capacity.

At the start of last week, no regions appeared unlikely to have the stay-at-home order lifted soon because their capacity was well below 15%. But within a day, the state announced it was lifting the order for the 13-county Greater Sacramento area.