State COVID-19 calculations 'don't match up' as Fresno County reopens in red tier

By California's own database numbers, no snapshot qualifies Fresno County for the red tier.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hundreds of businesses are reopening this week as Fresno County moves into the red tier of coronavirus restrictions.

But staying in the red could be difficult and the state's calculations make it really hard to know.

Customers are coming back to movie theaters and restaurants and gyms in Fresno County, but in the red tier the flow is just a trickle.

"Whenever the rule for restaurants is 25%, whenever the rule for gyms and fitness centers is 10%, that really, there's science behind that that shows that's the best way to keep people safe," said Dr. Rais Vohra, the Fresno County health officer.

Dr. Vohra says it's good news to reopen indoor businesses, but people should keep in mind how easily infections could increase and force the same businesses to close.

And he acknowledges the state's calculations for moving between tiers are not very transparent.

The state's metrics for the county show an unadjusted case rate of 6.1 new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents in the week ending September 19, qualifying the county for the red tier.

But the actual case count in the state's own database shows the real unadjusted rate was 8.4 which does not qualify for red.

"It's been widely observed," said Dr. Vohra. "I mean, every health officer, every epidemiologist in the state will tell you exactly that. 'Our numbers just aren't matching up with the state.' But the state seems to be pretty confident that these are the numbers they have, the trends are making sense in terms of what's happening. So I do feel that overall, the trends are making sense."

Blueprint data for Tulare County calculated 9.2 cases per day per 100,000 residents. The state database counts 15.6.

In Madera County, the blueprint count is 7.8, but the database shows 18.

The state does subtract cases in inmates at state or federal prisons, but Fresno County's state prison in Coalinga has had one new case in the last two weeks, and the federal prison in Mendota currently has one case.
Tulare County has no state or federal prisons. In Madera County, prison cases explain some of the discrepancy, but not all of it.

Action News has shared the math and asked the state public health department for an explanation several times over the last ten days.

They've pointed us back to the database and said the blueprint shows a "snapshot", but by their own database numbers, no snapshot qualifies Fresno County for the red tier.

But officially, that's where the county is, while most of the surrounding counties remain in purple.

Dr. Vohra says it's hard to predict if that'll affect the infection rate here.

"I think one scenario might be that if our restaurants are allowing indoor dining and other counties aren't that people might be attracted to that and come in from other counties to dine in our restaurants," he said.

A similar scenario played out on the Central Coast this summer, but San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County are also in the red now and closer to orange.

Public health officials hope Fresno County follows the same path.
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