Infection Rates in Neighborhoods With Low Voter Turnout, Many Bars, Few Trees Could Slow California’s Reopening Under New ‘Equity Metric’
Starting this week, California will require counties to meet certain equity requirements before they’re permitted to reopen more businesses and social activities.
Proponents of this equity-focused approach say it is necessary to prevent the most vulnerable communities from being left behind as the state digs its way out of the pandemic. Critics call it a deeply flawed and potentially illegal means of determining which areas are safe to reopen, and they argue that it will only slow California’s recovery.
“Our entire state has come together to redouble our efforts to reduce the devastating toll COVID-19 has had on our Latino, Black and Pacific Islander communities,” said Acting State Public Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan in a press release. “This isn’t just a matter of higher cases in these communities—it is an issue of life and death that is hurting all Californians.”
“Even if we are talking about issues of genuine inequity, there is no justification for the governor to wield emergency powers and restrict the most basic liberties of citizens for purposes of equity,” counters Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R–Folsom). “It is an extremely dangerous thing to impose these restrictions that are only supposed to exist for genuine emergencies, genuine public health purposes, but instead use them for a social agenda.”
Since August, reopenings in California have been dictated by the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. This blueprint places counties in one of four tiers based on the local severity of the pandemic, as measured by the number of new cases per 100,000 people (the case rate) and the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive (the test positivity rate).
Counties that show improvement in their case and test positivity rates over a two-week period are allowed to move into a less restrictive tier, where more businesses and activities are permitted. Backtracking on these metrics can kick a county back into a more restrictive tier.
Starting Tuesday, counties’ reopenings will also hinge on the test positivity rates in their most disadvantaged neighborhoods, as defined by the state’s new equity metric, and on whether counties make targeted public health investments in those neighborhoods.
If those communities’ test positivity rates lag behind the county’s overall rate, they’ll be prevented from moving into a less restrictive tier. On the flip side, this metric could potentially allow some counties to reopen more quickly. If their test positivity rates are low enough in both disadvantaged neighborhoods and the county as a whole to meet the requirements of a less restrictive tier, they’re allowed to proceed with reopenings, even if their case rate is still too high. Counties cannot be bumped back a tier for backtracking on the equity metric.
Needless to say, it’s a pretty complex formula. The idea, according to Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, is to ensure that counties with localized hotspots don’t reopen too hastily, thus allowing those hotspots to spread.
“The disparate levels of trans
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