A City, If You Can Keep It: Winters County, CA

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We are now governed by the color system. As Robin Williams joked in his HBO special, “Tom Ridge will come out every so often and say ‘Today’s a blue day, no orange, RED!’”

I immediately thought of that joke when Governor Newsom announced our new and improved (again) tiered color-coded reopening system. Purple, Red, Orange, Yellow … in English those translate to businesses being able to open under the following conditions: outdoor only, indoor at 25 percent capacity, indoor at 50 percent capacity, and open indoor with “modifications.” For those of you playing the home game, this is the 4th or 5th total overhaul to the standards by which we can resume normalcy.

The new case standards seem to have no obvious relation to the old county variance standard that we were working toward. Interestingly with this change, we have completely abandoned hospitalizations as a critical metric and now added health equity. Apparently, the goalposts have moved from protecting hospital capacity to counting cases with nary a mention of why (probably because we achieved the original goal in the third week of May and peaked mid July).

If Winters were a county, it would have been classified as Red Tier 2 with a seven day average new case count of 6.12 cases per 100K people. Moving evaluation date one day forward puts us at 4.08 and into Orange Tier 3 (pending cases added 8/31). Over the weekend we added three cases to a single day, which will skew our data by the time you read this.

Those cases throw off our seven day average only because our population is small and we have seen a consistent but infrequent count of one per day. We more often have zero new cases per day. Three in a day is an outlier for our recent data. I would argue we should consider the three most recent cases as a single case IF they are under one roof and we are measuring how pervasive the virus is in town not simply tallying positive results.

Low single digit cases in a day cause dramatic swings in our metrics, and make us look far worse than our neighbors. One case here is worth almost 10 in Davis. Think of per capita cases in Yolo County like volume knobs that go from 0-100, but one can only move in increments of ten while being compared to knobs that move one by one. Since we are concerned with the daily rate of change (each movement of the knob), we are handicapped when compared to our neighbors even though we could only move slower most days if we had zero cases.

What does this mean for us? Well nothing unless our elected representatives fight for us to get approval to be treated in accordance to our numbers. Or if they have the moxie, declare that we meet the standards and fight to protect our businesses that may choose to reopen against the assuredly heavy-handed retaliation from the County and State for daring to defy their edicts.

The State looks at things by counties. Yolo County doesn’t moderate its response by city, but they should. Davis also exceeds the standard but Davis County would qualify for Yellow Tier 4 coding. Woodland, West Sacramento, and the unincorporated areas are driving the County’s numbers that the State cares about.

As a rural county, we are different than Sacramento County. We have standoff and separation between all our cities, 15+ minute travel times between us, an obvious delineation of where each city ends that is more than a sign on the road. There is less mixing of populations than we would see between Fair Oaks, Carmichael, and Rancho Cordova. Our situation is different and our COVID response should reflect that.

Gaining the appropriate evaluated tier for Winters would not mean things are back to normal. We still have to play the State’s game, some businesses may not be comfortable opening for indoor service, or they may not think their customers are ready. But they should have the option. We have had five new cases in two weeks, nine in three.

I have heard the assertion that Winters has the highest total cases per capita of any city in Yolo so our low numbers are not as good as they seem. Per capita this is true, but as I explained above, scale matters and single cases cause exponentially more dramatic swings than they do for our neighbors. I would submit that anyone who would use our cumulative case total being higher per capita than our neighbors against us, doesn’t have a firm grasp on how our small size skews those numbers as we slowly tick up. Our worst single day of new cases since March was a whopping six in a day at the end of June.

We should not continue to be punished because Woodland and West Sacramento are problem cities. I would challenge the members of the City Council to discuss our data either at a Council Meeting or a 2×2 and if they elect to not push for classification appropriate for our data, explain why without resorting to “we have to play by their rules.”

The Council represents us, I think it is time we see a far more forceful and public push back against the orders driven by cases in Woodland and West Sacramento that are crushing our town. We certainly have the data.

Note: the data and attached graphic should have been calculated on 9/1 but due to submission deadlines it was ran two days early. The State will evaluate counties every Tuesday going forward.

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