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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contact tracing workflow.
Scott Steepleton, Editor
6:12 am PDT July 26, 2020

A penny may buy your thoughts, but if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, a $20 gift card may be enough to coax out of you the names of all recent close contacts.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health gift card program is part of a $10 million effort at case investigating and contact tracing to help curb the spread of the virus.

For at least three weeks, I’ve been hounding the county to provide information on what contact tracing says about the Malibu cases, which, as of Friday, totaled 73 positives and two deaths.

So far, it’s been easier to get a parking spot at Nobu on a Saturday night.

It’s not like the county doesn’t know about any local cases. Six were reportedly handed to public health officials several weeks ago after they came forward to their employer, Moonhadows.

If I were head of contact tracing, you bet those people would be called immediately. They did the right thing in coming forward. The owners did the right thing in notifying the county. Why wouldn’t they take part in an anonymous Q-and-A session?

Whether Department of Public Health officials are unwilling to provide the Malibu data or are unable, it’s not clear. For, time and again, instead of answering what are simple questions most anyone might ask, they simply say something along the lines of “case counts about Malibu are available in the daily report.”

However, that’s simply raw numbers. There’s no complexion, nothing useful, not even an acknowledgment that an attempt has been made to contact anyone associated with those cases.

I get it. Malibu’s a small place compared to others in the county. But residents here pay these people to help stay safe from what’s billed as the worst thing to hit this state, country and world in most of our lifetimes. So, don’t you think it’d be helpful for Malibuites to know that the 40 or so new cases in the past two months were:

  • Revelers at the same STR party on May 31?

Cool. I don’t do STR parties, so I’m OK.

  • People who failed to social distance at the same beach on the same day?

Cool. I was at the skate park that day. I’m good.

  • Hikers who failed to mask up before hitting Bluffs Park on May 31?

Cool. I was at the beach that day.

I don’t know if the same can be said for La Verne, or Torrance, or Santa Clarita, or South Pas, but the county doesn't even try to be helpful when it comes to Malibu.

Earlier this week, when public health officials announced that, as of July 7, a total of 92,523 confirmed cases of COVID-19 “are part of case investigations” I figured we were getting somewhere. And as I’d done several times before, I asked: How many of those cases are in Malibu? That was July 20.

Seeing a response the very next day and fantasizing that, finally, helpful information was at hand filled me with something just this side of glee.

It was an email, from “Bernard.” His message, which I will share with you verbatim, was this: “We don’t have this data to provide.”

Wait for it.

“However,” Bernard continues, “case counts are listed in the daily reports for Malibu.”

In the past couple of days, the health department has been handing out contact tracing basics like there’s no tomorrow, explaining how the process works and warning about scammers who apparently are using contact tracing as a means of stealing the money and perhaps the identities of unsuspecting victims.

We keep hearing that the life changing decisions being made by public health officials are guided by science.

It’s time they include us in the equation.

Scott Steepleton is the editor of Malibu Surfside News. You can reach him at