Tim Whyte | Are Californians Getting the Mushroom Treatment?

Tim Whyte

Ever heard of giving someone “the mushroom treatment”? It’s when you keep someone in the dark and feed them bull… er, manure.

I was reminded of the mushroom treatment at the beginning of this past week, when the state of California lifted the regional stay-at-home orders. Southern California, the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley — all in one nugget, lifted.

And, that’s good news. Far be it from me to look a gift reopening in the mouth. Our economy, our citizens, our kids — the shutdowns have exacted a heavy toll in the name of defeating the coronavirus.

So, I’m HAPPY that they lifted the order.

But as the days passed after the state lifted the order, something curious happened. All through the state’s regional shutdown order, we were told that “15%” was the magic marker.

As in, 15% capacity in the region’s intensive care units.

As soon as our region dipped below 15% capacity on Dec. 4, the shutdown order was triggered. Every day, the state released updated ICU capacity figures that marched inexorably downward: 13.1%, 12.5%, 10.3%, 10.9%, 10.1%, 9.0%, 7.7%, 6.2%, 5.3%, 4.2%, 2.7%, 1.7%, 0.5% and then, 0.0%, where it remained flatlined for more than a month.

To get out of the stay-at-home order, we were told, the ICU capacity would need to be projected to be 15% or above for at least four weeks after a given date. The order didn’t say it had to “hit” 15% first, just that it would be projected to remain at or above 15% for four weeks. But any sane person would take that to mean, in order to be projected to be at or above 15% for four weeks, it would be reasonable to expect that it would first GET to 15%, or at least close to it.

On Monday, the day Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the order, it remained at 0.0%. 

I thought that was a little weird, but I thought to myself, “OK, so tomorrow we should start to see it climb.” 


It does stand to reason that the ICU capacity would improve, because the number of daily confirmed new cases has been dropping for the past 10 days or so. On that front, the numbers are indeed promising, and it stands to reason that, if the number of confirmed cases drops, so too would the number of hospitalizations, and in turn so too would drop the number of COVID-19 patients jamming the region’s ICU’s.

But the next day, the state didn’t release an updated ICU capacity. Or the day after that. Or the day after that. 

Or, the day after that.

Did it miraculously go from 0.0% to 15% in one day? Two days? Three? Four?

We don’t know, because they’re not saying. Apparently, it’s “too complicated” for us rabble to understand.

It’s like that magic 15% number never existed. And when you ask the state for an explanation of how they figure it’s going to be at 15% for four weeks when they were still reporting it as 0.0% ON THE DAY THE ORDER WAS LIFTED, they pat you on the head and say, “It’s complicated. Don’t worry your pretty little head over it.”

Why might that be? Well. I’m sure not going to espouse any conspiracy theories, because a Democrat friend of mine told me this past week that espousing a conspiracy theory rises to the level of sedition. (I think he forgot to include the qualifier, “IF you’re a Republican,” but I digress. I sure don’t want to end up in a re-education camp for being “seditious.”)

But, a conspiracy theorist might wonder about a couple of things:

First, was the lifting of the stay-at-home order more about fending off litigation from affected industries, such as the restaurant industry? If so, why not just say so? Dancing around the “it’s complicated” answer and suddenly halting the daily updates of ICU capacities… well, “transparency” is not a word that comes to mind when they do that. It’s funny how some of the governments and officials who profess to be the most transparent are actually the least transparent. How refreshing it would be to hear a politician, ANY politician, from either party, own a mistake and say, “We screwed up. We went too far. It was an overstep. We want everyone to be careful but this was a mistake and we are walking it back.”

Then there was the timing. 

For the past year, we’ve heard nothing but doom and gloom, and we’ve been told we have to shut this down and shut that down to halt the spread of the virus. And I think there’s logic in that. I believe the virus is real, it’s deadly and it’s not something to mess with. Personally, I have been super careful, and, knock on wood, so far I’ve dodged the virus. (Although, the more I think of it, the more I wonder if my mega-flu that I had one year ago wasn’t the flu, but COVID-19. The doctors said flu, and COVID-19 hadn’t really made an impact here yet, but I do wonder. I’ve never been so sick, so out of it, for two weeks solid…)

But in the land of “things that make you go ‘hmm,’” within a week of President Joe Biden being inaugurated, multiple Democrat-run states and cities lifted or loosened their stay-at-home orders. Michigan. Chicago. New York. Washington, D.C., Oregon. California. Because after all, it’s a shiny new day in America.

Then, of course, there’s the status of the recall petition against Newsom, driven largely by people who object to the governor’s handling of the pandemic. Too many signatures for comfort, perhaps?

Again, I’m not espousing those theories. No sedition here, nosirree. But when the state tells us, “15% is the magic metric,” then all of a sudden it’s not, with no real explanation, and suddenly we’re not talking about 15% AT ALL, it’s hard not to think:

Maybe we’re getting the mushroom treatment.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

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