California lawmakers demand: Where’s the COVID data?

Rarely has the public been so captivated by government statistics as it has since the pandemic.

COVID-19 data on infections, hospitalizations and fatalities determine where Californians can go, with whom they can associate and whether their businesses and other institutions can operate. Public health officials say they used the numbers to initiate sweeping shutdowns, mask mandates and other unprecedented interventions.

But several Bay Area politicians and epidemiologists say the most noteworthy thing about California’s public health data during this pandemic is its incompleteness and inaccessibility.

As coronavirus cases mounted over the past year, overwhelmed public health systems often struggled to collect even the most basic information about patients’ ethnicities, occupations and exposure to others, obscuring the true picture of the virus’ impact.

The fact that schools, businesses and public institutions are only now limping back to life more than 3.6 million infections and 60,000 deaths later, they say, merits a review of the Golden State’s public health surveillance systems.

Critics of the state’s response, including state lawmakers, epidemiologists and academics, have kicked off a battle in Sacramento aimed at forcing public health agencies to improve how they collect data and to open it to the public.

Those demands for more oversight and access, however, have run into major opposition from both health officials and data-privacy proponents.

State Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, the author of Senate Bill 744, which would expand collection of coronavirus data, testified last week before his bill’s successful Judiciary Committee vote that “good science depends on good data, and we have unfortunately very little data.”

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Glazer’s proposal is scheduled this month for a penultimate Appropriations Committee vote before the full Senate will consider it. The bill would mandate additional data collection about COVID-19 patients’ travel histories, households, occupations and workplaces. The bill would also require greater disclosure of state public health data to academic researchers.

While California currently has one of the lowest rates of coronavirus transmission in the country, and mass immunization appears to be drawing the state closer to “herd immunity,” those developments come after a harrowing year during which the pandemic fell hardest on disadvantaged communities.

University of Southern California Professor Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist and a former deputy health officer for San Francisco, cited death rates, continuing school closures and earlier countywide shutdowns to support his claim that “California’s public health response has been an abject failure.”

Klausner said data limitations forced public health authorities to enact sweeping countywide shutdowns with devastating economic consequences, instead of more targeted quarantines focused on smaller at-risk populations.

“The lack of good data resulted in the neglect of essential workers and the failure to implement testing of the workforce, which could have identified early cases and prevented spread of infection,” he said.

Coronavirus patient data is collected from three main sources: Laboratories, formal health care facilities and employers. Automated laboratory reporting is the predominant way that outbreaks are tracked. Employers who encounter infected employees also are required to report cases to their county health authorities.

Cases are also reported when patients are tested in formal health care settings by medical staff who are …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

  Bridge: May 5, 2021


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