A letter to the much-lauded California governor — because we know very little, and it’s frustrating
Dear Governor Newsom,
Thank you for your leadership during this terrible time of pandemic. We are grateful to be only the 10th most infected state in the country. As of Sunday, we are fortunate to have “only” 1,177 COVID-related deaths in our state, since — terrible as that is — we know the situation could be much worse.
However, as we enter our sixth week of quarantine in California, with statewide economic activity shut down, it feels urgent to point out that the state still does not have a plan to implement widespread testing of its citizens.
And as you pointed out last week in your six-part plan to reopen the state, that is the very first criterion required to even consider doing so. We need, you said: “testing, contact tracing, isolating and supporting those who are positive and exposed.” Is that happening?
We know very little, and it’s frustrating.
All we know is that California lags far behind other states — notably New York — in testing. That there does not appear to be a project underway to proactively test individuals and implement contact tracing in any discernible timeframe. And that health experts say we are going to need testing of more than 1 million people per day in the country to safely reopen.
As literally captive citizens, we are left with a lot of unanswered questions:
• Why does California lag behind other states in testing?
• How long will it take until the necessary measures to conduct widespread testing are in place?
• What is the baseline testing result that health experts are seeking in order to change any of the current shelter in place requirements?
I posed those questions to your office and the California Department of Public Health and received several polite responses directing me to this graph, showing that 14,000 people were tested on Saturday in California. But no actual information.
“The Governor created a COVID-19 Testing Task Force, a public-private collaboration that will work with stakeholders to rapidly boost testing capacity. (4/4/2020),” I was told.
And then I was told: “When we have more details to share on the Governor’s testing goal, we will let you know. For now, we will let his comments, and the information provided to date in news releases speak for themselves.”
Governor Newsom, that is totally unacceptable. You promised two weeks ago that California was starting a “new day” on testing, and acknowledged that our effort had been wholly inadequate until that time.
Nothing appears to have changed as we sit in our houses and wait.
First: let’s acknowledge that the federal government run by President Trump bears the actual responsibility to lead the effort to contain the pandemic, including to conduct widespread testing. However, as you clearly recognized weeks ago, you cannot rely on the Trump administration to act. And indeed now he has decided to formally abdicate testing responsibilities to the state.
Secondly, while there is now testing available for people with symptoms who want a test, that is far from adequate, placing the onus on the infected patient to decide if they need one. To do so they need to “apply online,” according to L.A. County. And Los Angeles still lags behind San Francisco by a factor of three.
It is time to tell us what level of testing will be required to move past this stage. It is time to reveal where the problems are in achieving widespread testing, and to publicly address what you are doing about them.
Two weeks ago, you named a Testing Task Force co-chaired by Dr. Charity Dean, Assistant Director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and Blue Shield of California President and CEO Paul Markovich. I wonder: Why were no technology leaders included? Don’t we need the expertise that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Apple’s Tim Cook or Google’s Sergei Brin could bring to this necessary effort to understand the location and pace of infection?
It’s not too late to address that, and it would certainly be a good use of Facebook’s resources that they are eager to contribute.
As I’ve written, we need greater transparency, clear information and the use of this great state’s resources in the private sector — notably in technology and entrepreneurship — so we can move beyond this stage of the quarantine.