California Coronavirus Update: Governor Gavin Newsom Addresses Major Data Issues Amid Resignations, New Ethics Complaint About $1B Deal: “I’m Governor, The Buck Stops With Me”

California Governor Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom State of California via Twitter

California Governor Gavin Newsom held his first press conference in a week after it was revealed that his administration’s COVID-19 data collection database had been undercounting daily coronavirus case numbers for at least two weeks.

On Sunday, the state’s Director of Public Health resigned, presumably over the data lapse. Dr. Sonia Angell was the first Latina ever to hold the role and her resignation came after less than a year on the job. Newsom issued a terse, one-sentence statement thanking Angell.

Newsom was asked repeatedly about the resignation during his news conference. He repeatedly refused to discuss specifics of Angell’s resignation before saying, “I’m governor, the buck stops with me.”

That follows the July resignation of Dr. Charity Dean, who served as assistant director of the Department of Public Health. Dean was the co-leader of California’s testing task force, which was established to encourage better cooperation between the public and private sectors.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Dean spent hours each day dealing with elected officials, including those on the White House’s task force, former colleagues said…They were known to work up to 120 hours per week, talking by phone until close to midnight to troubleshoot testing infrastructure kinks and supply crises around the state.

Dean was someone who might have caught a major computer reporting glitch, as her task force contacted labs personally to track data and “troubleshoot testing infrastructure kinks.”

She was replaced by Dr. Gil Chavez, the state’s former epidemiologist, who had been retired until the pandemic hit. According to the Times, Chavez and his co-chair now lead a task force whose numbers have been reduced by 50 percent due to attrition and lack of new appointees.

Since her resignation, Dean has been tweeting news and information, some of which could be seen as a comment on California’s COVID testing and response.

For example, on August 6, when the news of widespread testing data delays first trickled out, Dean posted a piece about the importance of quickly reporting test results.

As Newsom made his remarks on Monday, The Sacramento Bee reported that another recent resignation — that last week of CalPERS’ chief investment officer, who oversaw the massive state retirement fund — followed an anonymous complaint to the California ethics watchdog agency amid allegations that the CIO had approved a $1 billion deal with a firm in which he’s a shareholder.

Newsom did not comment about the reported ethics complaint.

He did speak about the data issues at length.

On Friday, California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly held a news conference and admitted that multiple errors on the state’s part had caused a backlog of 250,000-300,000 records in its case data reporting system. That system is used primarily to parse and distribute coronavirus data.

The error caused an undercount in the state’s daily new COVID-19 cases data for the past two weeks, said Ghaly. Hospital counts and deaths were apparently not impacted.

The data disaster is particularly embarrassing for the governor, who is fond of saying “data is foundational” to his coronavirus decisions.

Newsom said on Monday that the system is decades old, one “we inherited,” and not up to the demands of a pandemic. He said the state has “data bases that were never made for the world we live in.”

“We are committed to addressing these foundational data issues,” said the governor, before promising a “stubborn, long term, grinding effort” to create a system that works.

“We’re not going to just…band aid this,” said Newsom. “We are now accountable, accountable to be transparent in these things.

At the news conference on Monday, Ghaly announced Sandra Shewry, who led the Department of Health Services under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would be acting public health director. In 2007, the state split the Health Services entity into the Department of Health Care Services and Department of Public Health.

Ghaly also said the state “nearly quadrupled” its capacity to process data over the weekend. As part of that, it was able to process all 250,000+ backlogged test records.

Newsom said that, after the data is back recorded to the day to which it properly belongs, the state will provide and update on numbers.

The governor reported 7,751 new coronavirus cases in the state. Newsom said that number of new cases is “accurate,” and not affected by the backlog.

Startlingly, the governor said 58.8 percent of COVID case numbers have “affected the Latino population.”

There were 66 new deaths for a total of just over 10,000. Newsom cautioned that that number may be low, as it often is on Monday, due to a regular backlog from the weekend. There has been an average of 137 deaths per day over the past 14 days.

The number of people hospitalized has dropped below 6,000, that’s down 19 percent over the past 14 days. There are currently 1,727 coronavirus patients in the ICU. That’s a 13 percent decrease.

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