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Confusing Covid-19 data

Like all of California’s 58 counties, Sacramento County has important regional responsibilities. Public health is one of those duties, a role that has become top of the mind because of the corona virus. Like other counties, Sacramento County reports the number of cases and deaths attributed to the virus, figures that are essential for managing the crisis. But a look at the County’s online information dashboard, if seen through the lens of an UnCity dweller, reveals some strange disparities:

  • Data are reported for each city - including tiny Isleton.
  • Data for unincorporated areas are lumped together into a report for the entire unincorporated area.
  • Data reported by Zip Codes blur the lines between cities and unincorporated areas. The Zip Codes that cover Arden Arcade are 95821, 95825 and 95864. All three of them have small portions that include bits and pieces of the City of Sacramento. If you click on the County’s interactive map of covid cases, you are told that the cases in that Zip Code are in Sacramento.
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Zip Code 95821 includes some territory of the City of Sacramento - a golf course, a softball complex and some businesses. Not many people live there (except homeless people). Yet the entire area is incorrectly said to be part of the City of Sacramento.

When the pandemic struck three months ago, very little was known about the virus. Testing was rare, as was the supply of Personal Protective Equipment. The solution was to shut down the economy except for essential businesses. After some time, as testing has become available and as more has been learned about how the virus spreads, the public policy set is about re-opening the economy using social distance and face masks. Testing and contact tracing have become key. Well, how do you do contact tracing if there is widespread misunderstanding about the geographic subsets of the county? There are almost 600,000 residents of unincorporated Sacramento County. Very few of those people live in truly rural areas like Wilton. Our community, Arden Arcade, is loaded with apartments where people live in close quarters. What does the County’s dashboard tell you about that? Answer - very little. And what’s up with the Zip Code data that assign results to incorrect jurisdictions? Does that mean data reported for the not-in-a-city area are actually a subset of all the cases traceable to the UnCity? Lest you think this is just a nitpicky rant, consider that the Covid infections for the West Coast were largely traceable back to one nursing home in suburban Seattle. For Covid-19, micropoints of data DO matter.

The Covid pandemic is serious. The incidence of new cases in the County is on the rise. It is a disservice to the unincorporated communities to not have more detailed information from the County. We know the County has formal boundaries for the areas it considers Arden Arcade, Carmichael, Fair Oaks, etc., so it should not be hard to tie cases back to a geographic space. Furthermore, other counties (e.g. Alameda) have changed their reporting to accommodate the concerns of unincorporated area residents. Can the County of Sacramento do likewise? Finally, what about the federal CARES Act funding? The County got a $181M distribution from the CARES Act. A cursory review of the County’s web site won’t reveal how the money has been used or where it is being budgeted. Are there needs here? If so, is CARES money being brought to bear here? Transparency about the funding allocations would certainly be helpful. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen. {…sigh…}

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The Zip Code map for June 23, 2020 from the County’s Covid-19 dashboard. Today’s stats (cases/deaths) are: total 2374/66, City of Sacramento 1,364/31, Elk Grove 200/3, Citrus Heights 120/8, Folsom 75/3, Rancho Cordova 170/7, Galt 65/0, Isleton 7/0, Unincorporated Areas 361/14. Notice that Arden Arcade is not identified on the map, although other unincorporated communities are listed.
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