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A local perspective on the Orange County oil spill. A deep look at pandemic data. And Monterey’s old wharf celebrates another year.

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OWCN / UC Davis
A ruddy duck that was rescued from the Orange County oil spill shortly after a bath.

Welcome to KAZU's weekly news roundup for 10/08/21. Here you'll find the top local stories of the week and a few national stories from NPR.

You may have noticed our State of the Pandemic weekly snapshot has been missing the last few weeks. On Sept. 9, the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker — which we have used to provide the snapshot — was showing good news for Monterey County: Low community transmission. The CDC gauges a county’s level of community transmission on its case rate and its test positivity rate.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For five straight days, the CDC reported an average of zero new cases in the county. It was a major leap. A week earlier, average daily cases had put Monterey County squarely in the “substantial transmission” category.

The Monterey County Health Department posted on Twitter and Facebook, celebrating the news. But the celebration was short lived — it turns out, the data was incorrect. According to state data from the California Department of Public Health, Monterey County was averaging just over 67 new cases per 100,000 people on Sept. 9, indicating community transmission was still in the “substantial” category.

In an email, a spokesperson for the county health department said the CDC Data Tracker had not received data properly from CDPH, which had “Monterey County inappropriately classified in the CDC’s ‘low’ transmission category.” Other counties across California had similar issues at the time, including San Luis Obispo and Riverside Counties.

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Amanda Byler
Dr. Judith Canner is a professor of statistics at Cal State Monterey Bay

From now on, KAZU News will use data from the California Open Data portal to produce its State of the Pandemic table. Multiple sources have told us state data is the most accurate source of information. But because local policies are often attached to the CDC’s data — Santa Cruz County rescinded its mask mandate after moving into moderate transmission for only a single day, for example — we will continue to use its tiers as a guideline.

Data between federal and state sources still don’t line up. So we spoke with Dr. Judith Canner, a professor of statistics at CSUMB, about the data discrepancy. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Any guesses as to what might have happened?

Dr. Judith Canner (JC): We’re playing this game of telephone. Something happened in the communication between the California Department of Public Health and the CDC. It really underlines the fact that our public health system as a nation and as a state isn't really set up to handle this kind of ongoing long term data collection.

What sort of implications does faulty data from the CDC have for our local response to COVID-19?

JC: It’s concerning because that's where the news looks — the CDC. But the part I'm more concerned about is the way the local authorities have responded. We might be using faulty data for our own mask mandate decisions in Monterey County. And our governor keeps sharing this statement that we're in moderate spread when we're really not. We are getting better. It is looking better. We're on a great trajectory. But we're still not in even moderate spread based on CDC’s guidelines.

What are the best data sources for journalists, and how should we interpret them so we can capture an accurate snapshot of the pandemic?

JC: The goal, I think, is to not focus on what's happening day to day, but more what's happening week to week.

The California dashboard gives you those seven-day averages per 100,000 people. Using that gives you a rough comparison from week to week. And then case positivity rate is the other metric, because a low case count with a high case positivity rate means we're not capturing all the data. In California, case positivity rates have been low, which is great. It means we're doing lots of testing. So hopefully we have a decent understanding of how many cases are actually out there. The percent of vaccinations is also important.

The State of the Pandemic (data from the California Open Data portal)

Jerimiah Oetting
*Because data is updated over time, case rate and testing data are derived from the previous week to ensure accuracy

Thanks to reader Seth Bates for contacting us about the discrepancies in the CDC data that we were reporting. And a special thanks to Dr. Judith Canner for walking us through it. We will continue to explore why there is a mismatch between local, state and federal data. Stay tuned!

Five oiled snowy plover is rescued from the Orange County oil spill area

KAZU News spoke with a Santa Cruz scientist this week who was in the field responding to the Orange County oil spill. Colleen Young works at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Response and Recovery in Santa Cruz. She spoke to us by phone on Tuesday from Dana Point to describe her experience on the ground, as she searched for oiled wildlife that were impacted by the spill. Read and listen to the full interview here.

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Youphoric Entertainment
Stilt walkers from Youphoric Entertainment are part of Sunday’s celebration of 176th birthday of Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

Monterey’s iconic Old Fisherman’s Wharf will celebrate its 176th birthday on Sunday with a party from 1 to 5 p.m. The wharf was built in 1845 as a destination for regular passenger and ferry service.

Sunday’s party includes music, magic and a sea-themed birthday cake. Earlier in the day, free one-hour historic “wharf walks” are being offered. Those begin at 10:30 and 11:45 a.m. at the entrance to the wharf.

Editor’s Note: In the emailed version of last week’s newsletter, KAZU News incorrectly credited a photo provided by Santa Cruz County of Dr. Gail Newel and Mimi Hall. The photograph was taken by Kevin Painchaud. 

Until the next time,

The KAZU Team