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A steep decline in California’s coronavirus infection rate announced this week by Gov. Gavin Newson may not be accurate, according to the state’s top public health official who said Tuesday that the state’s data system used to process COVID-19 test results is marred with technical issues.

The snafus have caused delays in analyzing test results and cast doubt on Newsom’s announcement Monday of a 21.

2% decline in the seven-day average rate for positive infections compared to the average from the week before.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said that “the seven-day positivity rate is absolutely affected” by the issue. It’s unclear to what extent and for how long cases have been undercounted, and how this situation differs from the more routine delays when test reporting lags over weekends.

Los Angeles public health officials last week warned that it was expecting a backlog in cases “due to previous reporting delays in the state electronic lab system.” The following day, the county reported highs of 4,825 new coronavirus cases and 91 deaths. Other counties, including Sacramento, Placer and Orange — which reported 263 additional cases Tuesday and two deaths — have recently included a warning on their dashboards that case counts may not be accurate.

“The state’s electronic disease reporting system has been experiencing issues processing incoming reports. Therefore, recent data published on the Sacramento County Public Health COVID-19 dashboards are likely to be an underestimate of true cases in the County,” Sacramento Public Health Department said.

The undercount issue does not affect hospitalization and intensive care data, Ghaly said. Those numbers recently plateaued across California after the state saw two days of record-setting fatalities last week and surpassed 9,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Some counties continue to be hit hard as others see a decline in severity. On Tuesday, San Bernardino County reported 59 additional deaths — its highest single-day count to date.

Hospitalization data are collected differently from the state’s test result numbers, which is gathered through CALredie — an electronic system that feeds information from laboratories to the state and local health systems.

California Department of Public Health officials are trying to determine “where data is getting stuck,” Ghaly said.

“We’re not sure when we’ll have a definitive fix to the problem.”

In the meantime, the health department is implementing manual processes to retrieve the information. Ghaly stressed the importance of focusing on long-term trends over snapshot data during a news briefing Tuesday afternoon.

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New study shows how racial disparities in mass incarceration drive economic inequality, too

The mass incarceration system is creating generational poverty—and since the criminal justice system disproportionately targets Black people, it’s a driver of Black poverty, building on the economic legacies of slavery and segregation. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Brennan Center.

A massive number of people are or have been involved in the criminal justice system: The report estimates that 7.7 million people alive now have been imprisoned at some point, 12.1 million have been convicted of a felony but not imprisoned, and 45 million people have been convicted of a misdemeanor. And people in all of those categories see their lifetime earnings dramatically reduced as a result.

You might think that people who’ve been convicted of a misdemeanor wouldn’t take much of an earnings hit, but they do—an average of 16% a year. People who’ve been convicted of a felony but not imprisoned lose an average of 22% a year. And for people who’ve been imprisoned, it’s 52%.

“The reduced earnings compound over the course of a lifetime. On average, formerly imprisoned people earn nearly half a million dollars less over their careers than they might have otherwise,” the report’s authors write. “These losses are borne disproportionately by people already living in poverty, and they help perpetuate it.”

For people who’ve been imprisoned, that’s a drop from already very low earnings for people similar to them, the comparison group for the study: “This report estimates that formerly imprisoned people earn around $6,700 annually, while their peers earn around $13,800.” An earnings gap that starts immediately after an incarcerated person is released only grows: “average formerly imprisoned people will start their careers earning roughly $7,100 less than their peers annually, and end them trailing their peers by more than $20,000 annually.” But of course lifetime earnings loss is not equal. White people lose about $267,000 over a lifetime after release from prison, the study estimates, while for Black people it’s $358,900 and for Latino people it’s $511,500. 

This lifetime earnings loss, the study’s authors note, “does not account for missed opportunities for additional wealth generation, from Social Security benefits to accrued interest on retirement accounts to forgone investment opportunities. These factors, taken together, demonstrate that imprisonment sets up people who are already disadvantaged for a profound loss of wealth and closes off pathways to upward economic mobility.”

The United States has long had major racial disparities in household wealth, with white families having significantly more wealth to pass along to their children than do Black or Latino families. A criminal justice system that targets Black and Latino people, leading in turn to a serious loss of lifetime earnings, drives that wealth gap even further.

But the study has a closing note that provides a powerful reminder of how racism twists our economic system even if you omit the disproportionate targeting of Black and Latino people by law enforcement. Echoing earlier research by the late sociologist Devah Pager, “this report’s estimates suggest that, for those who are otherwise socioeconomically similar, Black men and women with no history of conviction or imprisonment earn less than white men and women with a conviction record. By the end of a career … white men and women with a conviction earn about $49,000 a year on average, eclipsing the $39,000 a year that Black people with no conviction earn over the same period.”

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