A new state monitoring program to measure coronavirus activity and preparedness in the state's 58 counties is causing some confusion and frustration locally.
Kern County was in compliance with the state's various monitoring metrics at the start of last week, then fell out of compliance by week's end, landing on a state watchlist for county's with elevated disease spread and increasing hospitalizations.
As of this week, county officials have said, Kern is no longer out of compliance, according to their calculations. But the California Department of Public Health still has the county listed as exceeding thresholds for certain metrics on its monitoring website.
"It's a little frustrating when so much rides on this that we don't have this hammered down," said Matt Constantine, Kern County's director of Public Health Services. The county has tried to replicate how the state is calculating the county's rates but is still not arriving at the same numbers.
Once a county is on the state's watchlist, the state health department protocols say the state will work with the the county on how to respond. Counties on the watchlist may have to implement local shutdown orders or pull back on some reopenings if they can't find ways to effectively stem virus spread, but no specific triggers are in place at this time.
Constantine said so far the county has had one meeting with state officials and it mainly consisted of reviewing what Kern is doing to address the virus and no further guidance was provided.
On Wednesday, the state showed Kern was exceeding the threshold for its COVID-19 positivity rate, which is the percentage of tests done in a recent two week period that come back positive. Kern's rate was 8.5 percent, exceeding the 8 percent threshold by half a percent, according to the state's monitoring chart.
Kern County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said the county's metrics will likely fluctuate above and below the state benchmarks for some time to come.
"While that is certainly confusing to most folks, the reality is we will be in compliance one day, back out another and in compliance the next day," he said.
Asked by The Californian about that possibility, the state public health department said in an email it "will work closely with local health departments to identify action steps and timelines for addressing issues that impact indicators of concern."
The state monitoring chart can be viewed at https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/COVID19CountyDataTable.aspx.