SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s health department on Monday released to the public previously secret projections for future hospital intensive care unit capacity throughout the state, the key metric for lifting the coronavirus stay-at-home order.
However, state officials did not explain how regional per capita virus cases and transmission rates that also were released might influence how much ICU space will be available in four weeks.
Last week, state health officials told The Associated Press they were keeping all the data secret because it is complicated and might mislead the public.
The release of the data points came after coronavirus experts, joined by a public access organization and a business group, said the information should be public, and as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s political opponents decried the secrecy.
Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious-diseases control expert at University of California, San Francisco, was among the critics.
He applauded the state for being more open. He said it’s “not utterly transparent, but I have a better idea of what’s going on.”
In December, when California became the nation’s epicenter for the virus before numbers improved in the new year, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new stay-at-home order that was based on ICU capacity in each of five regions.
Any region that fell below 15% had new restrictions imposed, including closures of hair and nail salons and other businesses, and fewer customers allowed inside retail stores.
Four of the regions fell under the new order and three remained there until Monday, when state health officials announced that four-week projections showed them rising above the 15% threshold and Newsom said the order was lifted.
At a news conference with Newsom, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly promised to reveal some of the information behind the projections.
Several hours later the agency released a chart showing projections for regional ICU capacity, along with per capita cases and transmission rates.
The capacity takes into account not only coronavirus patients but those who would need intensive care for other reasons even if there were no pandemic.
The state said the Southern California region, which includes more than half the state’s population, will go from no ICU capacity under the state’s weighted formula to 33.3% capacity in four weeks, the most of any region.