You may recall that in March, the American public was bombarded with an image illustrating the concept of “flattening the curve” of COVID-19.
It typically showed a tall, red, angry-looking lump that resembled something out of a Road Runner cartoon after the coyote gets hit on the head by a falling boulder. This illustrated the projected course of the COVID-19 outbreak “without protective measures” to slow the spread of infection.
Overlaying the giant red lump was a soft wave, typically shown in soothing blue, that showed the projected course of the outbreak “with protective measures.”
What these two projections had in common was this: either way, the thing ends. The number of infections goes up, and then it goes down, and then it’s over. The difference between taking protective measures or not is how fast the number of infections rises, and whether the outbreak overwhelms the capacity of the health care system at a point in time.
Either way, doing everything or nothing, the outbreak ends.
That was in March. Now it’s October. In California, the state government — that is, Gov. Gavin Newsom alone, without any constitutional checks on his power — is inventing a way to make sure the COVID-19 emergency never ends.
It’s called “health equity.”
The Newsom administration released what it calls “The Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” No longer measuring hospitalizations or worrying about the potential for the medical system to be overwhelmed, the Blueprint relies on two measures to determine when a county can move to a “less restrictive tier” that allows more businesses to open and more “interaction among residents.” These measures are “case rate” and “test positivity.”
However, something new has been added to the requirements that larger counties must meet before the governor will allow commerce and the free movement of people.
“In order to advance to the next less restrictive tier, depending on its size, a county will need to meet an equity metric and/or demonstrate targeted investments to eliminate disparities in levels of transmission,” the Blueprint says.
What’s an equity metric?
“A county with a population of greater than 106,000” must ensure that the test positivity rates “in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods” do not “significantly lag behind its overall county test positivity rate.”
What’s the definition of a “most disadvantaged neighborhood”?
It’s defined as “being in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index census tracts.”
What’s the “Healthy Places Index”?
“The California Healthy Places Index (HPI) is a composite measure of socioeconomic opportunity applied to census tracts that includes 25 individual indicators across economic, social, education, transportation, housing, environmental and neighborhood sectors.”
It’s starting to sound like businesses can’t open until “targeted investments” are made to solve every problem in California.
The technical term for this policy is “circling the drain.” Unless businesses open and people can work, the stream of incoming tax revenue that makes public investments possible will continue to shrivel. Public revenue has declined during the lockdown, leaving cities, counties and the state in fiscal straits. To fix this, the governor favors the massive tax increase of Proposition 15, along with calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to ask about more federal relief funds.
Poverty is a severe problem in California, the state with the highest poverty rate in the nation when the cost of living is taken into account. About a third of state residents live below the poverty line or close to it.
One thing that reduces poverty is employment. It will never be possible for government benefits to equal the financial gains that are possible when people can find good jobs at decent wages.
California’s blithering idiocy on economic policy has created an Alice-in-Wonderland world where lucrative freelance work is banned by law, where local economic engines such as theme parks, which have safely reopened in other states, are forbidden to operate, and where counties are being held hostage to the whims and agenda of one public official.
In late September, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to push back against yet another revision of the governor’s plan to reopen counties, a data algorithm used to “adjust” a county’s COVID-19 case and positivity rates.
For example, in the week ending September 12, Kern County residents were tested for COVID at a rate lower than the state median. So the algorithm was used to bump up the case rate in the county from the raw number of 6.3 per 100,000 to an adjusted number of 7.2 per 100,000.
That was enough to keep the county from advancing to a less restrictive tier. The cutoff was 7 per 100,000.
Kern County officials argued that the case rate adjustment is arbitrary and has no clinical relevance. County Administrator Ryan Alsop told reporters, “This new criteria unnecessarily burdens our residents, parents and children, further slowing business and school reopening. It unnecessarily and arbitrarily penalizes counties who have little to no control over voluntary and individual decision-making relative to testing for COVID-19.”
Because the number of people who choose to be tested in each county will fluctuate, the state median is constantly changing, and that makes the adjusted case rate a moving target.
All the targets are arbitrary. The equity metric is particularly arbitrary and seems designed to assert state control over how counties spend grant funds allocated to them for the pandemic response. As a condition of moving to a less restrictive tier, counties will be required to “submit a plan” that “defines its disproportionately impacted populations, specifies the percent of its COVID-19 cases in these populations, and shows that it plans to invest” its grant funds on state-approved priorities.
The evidence continues to accumulate that the governor is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to implement policies through emergency action that he could never get through the Legislature or past the voters.
The emergency is over. We’re clearly on the downslope of the red lump. It’s time for regular constitutional government to return in California. It’s past time for everyone to remember that power belongs not to the people who hold it, but to the people who grant it.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected]. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley
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