Many should wonder, even if Gavin Newsom has finally stumbled into the correct policy. Did California’s governor suddenly shift toward reopening because of the science in the COVID-19 pandemic? Or is he hoping to stave off a recall effort and worries more about his job than public health?
Facing a recall threat, Newsom this month announced the return of outdoor concerts and Major League Baseball games, allowed Disneyland to open its gates soon and signed legislation that attempts to reopen schools.
The Democratic governor has two things going for him: a decline in the infection rate and an increase in vaccinations. But the shift in his Covid-19 strategy has prompted cynicism from Republicans and some local leaders as a recall election becomes reality. Would this be happening if not for the movement to oust him?
Ahem. To be clear, all governors have an “increase in vaccinations” going for them, and most of them have declining transmission rates too. That includes states that have dispensed with mask mandates, like Texas and Florida, in favor of mask recommendations. The few with increases include Michigan, whose Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer began relaxing restrictions a few weeks ago in a very cold-weather state.
The problem for Newsom is that people have begun to compare his performance to Ron DeSantis’ in Florida, which eschewed lockdowns in favor of capacity limits and other mitigation against transmission. The CDC data shows just how well that worked out between two similarly situated warm-weather states:
As we can see, California’s cases peaked at a far higher level, almost three times as high as Florida’s seven-day average of daily cases. California’s peaks lasted longer, too. Florida managed to keep schools open and businesses operating during that time, a point that shouldn’t be lost on Californians. It’s certainly not lost on Newsom.
If Newsom proposed his changes as a case of learning from best practices elsewhere, perhaps he might get more buy-in. Instead, Newsom claims that the science has changed now in some way, which makes people very suspicious of his motives — including among his allies:
“So he is changing the blueprint rules without any logical reason,” said Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, who is also a physician. “Our futures are in the hands of a governor trying to stop a recall. He has already killed tens of thousands by opening too soon in May. Now he wants to do it again.”
Smith oversees the largest county in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, and he has regularly imposed stricter rules than Newsom. But his changes have even drawn criticism from conservatives like Assemblymember James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus) who have long demanded that he loosen California restrictions. While they support more reopening, they believe the governor has been inconsistent and should have done more sooner.
“Could have been done months ago. Why now? 2 million reasons why,” Gallagher said in a tweet, referring to the number of signatures the recall campaign said it has collected.
That’s certainly the impression Newsom is making, even if the policies are a substantial step in the right direction. California should have kept its outdoor venues open all along, and worked off of capacity restrictions instead of arbitrary closures from the start. Properly managed, that would have allowed the state to keep kids in schools and parents at work, instead of forcing them to socialize in less-safe settings that exacerbated transmission. Florida’s experience wasn’t perfect, but DeSantis did a much better job balancing the cost-benefit ratios in that state than Newsom has done in California.
Did I say kids in schools? Let’s not forget that Newsom didn’t have that problem:
At least twice in the last week Gavin Newsom has claimed that his family is suffering through “Zoom school” along with the rest of California, but that’s simply not true. …
Newsom has four children, aged 4 to 11, and at least three of them attend a private school in Sacramento County (the youngest would be in PreK, and it’s unclear whether he attends PreK at that school or not). The school’s website says that full-day K-6 instruction has been available since November 9, and “half-days with waiver prior” – that “prior” being mid-September 2020. RedState was provided the name of that school by multiple sources, and confirmed the date grades K-6 resumed in-person instruction based on public information on waivers granted.
While it was well-known to the state’s political insiders that Newsom’s kids were in school as of mid-September (other politicians send their children there, and Sacramento’s a small town), Newsom didn’t publicly admit it until a news conference October 30, as Politico reported.
Small wonder, then, that “many” wonder whether these changes are motivated by the science, or by Newsom’s sense of political survival. It’s at least both.
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