Governor Gavin Newsom struck a cautious tone on Thursday when he announced California’s plans to monitor and respond to COVID-19 indefinitely after removing most state-wide restrictions and rules.
The scene was far from last summer when, at a reopening celebration at Universal Studios along with disguised characters, he proclaimed that the state had “turned the page” on the pandemic, just months before the worst wave of the virus forced him to go back.
This time there were no Minions, Trolls or Transformers.
“We have all come to understand what was not understood at the beginning of this crisis, that there is no end date, that there is no moment where we declare victory,” he said at a press conference from an emergency warehouse and Fontana. .
After a shutdown in 2020 and a hasty reopeninga “switch” back to restrictions and so an overly optimistic move towards normality before COVID, a return to and now the abolition of the mask mandate and countless repetitions of rules along the way, Newsom is trying to find a balance between giving hope to tired Californians as the Omicron variant diminishes and avoiding past mistakes in proposing an end to the pandemic.
The governor’s more cautious approach aims to deter people from dropping their precautions with so little knowledge of how the virus will behave in the future.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Newsom said. “We do not approach things as we did last year, certainly not two years ago.”
The Governor’s New “SMARTERThe plan is summarized in a seven-part strategy that includes continued dependence on vaccinations, masks and tests. The state will keep track of COVID-19 trends and remain ready to adapt as needed, work to keep schools open and improve treatments for the virus, Newsom said.
“We are slipping into the normal,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Secretary of Health and Human Services. “We do not advertise the normal.”
Ghaly warned that California is not out of the woods and may require masks again in certain settings if another variant hits and the virus rises again. He and Newsom were careful not to give any rosy predictions.
These are more measured messages than in May 2020, when Newsom began loosening its home-based order and reopening stores, only to see the number of cases rise.
Vaccines were not available at the time, and the state was too slow to roll out its public education campaign around the need to pursue antiviral strategies when Newsom began repealing the rules, said Ann O’Leary, his then chief of staff.
When the governor announced the forthcoming reopening of businesses and what he called Stage 2 in early May, he faced pressure from all sides. Some local public health officials wanted to keep the home order in place, and a vocal faction of frustrated residents and a few local governments openly defied his restrictions. More than 3.5 million Californians had applied for unemployment benefits, and businesses across the state were concerned that they could not survive a continued shutdown.
Within a few weeks of reopening, the daily average of new positive cases in California nearly quintupled before the holiday weekend of the fourth of July.
“If I have a critique of us, I think even the governor has a critique of what we did the first time, it was that we just did not do enough public education around what it meant to reopen,” O ‘said. Leary. “People really thought it meant the pandemic was over, or the threat was over.”
As cases rose that summer, Newsom relied on a number of evolving criteria – stages, watch lists and eventually colored levels for counties – to impose or roll back mitigation strategies in areas experiencing elevated virus transmission.
Later, after a winter hike and months inside a vaccination campaign, the governor again rescinded almost all of his rules and mandates the following summer.
On June 15, a maskless Newsom stood in front of the entrance to Universal Studios theme park and told Californians it was safe to take off their masks, too.
“Finally we’re here … to turn the page, to move beyond capacity limits, to move beyond this color coding, to move beyond social distancing and physical distancing, and yes, as you saw me go up to the stage, move me beyond masking, ”Newsom told the audience last year.
The governor’s reopening madness and end of mitigation strategies in the midst of a recall campaign would later prove premature. At the time, Newsom’s public health advisers and many other experts said it was unlikely the state would experience that kind of wave which forced companies to close again.
“The hope was that we would make much more progress with vaccinations,” said State Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). “There was some cautious optimism that with a sufficiently high vaccination rate we could eliminate many of the other attenuations.”
The celebration sent the message that the pandemic was in the past, and many Californians responded accordingly. The once optimistic outlook for public health became gloomier as vaccinations dwindled, and it became clear that the vaccinated would continue to catch and spread the virus.
The state never closed the companies again. But bolstered by overwhelming support for his more cautious COVID-19 approach than his recall challenges, the governor committed to a vaccination mandate for school children two weeks after the election and followed up in December with a mask mandate to curb a winter micron rise.
Pan said the state should have done a better job of normalizing masks, even when the risk has diminished. He said governments have been mitigating the spread of other diseases and public health problems for decades and people should not expect COVID-19 to be any different.
“No one wants to go back to a time when we did not have clean water and sewer systems and food quality rules, food integrity standards and all these other things that we have put in place to stop disease,” Pan said. “We need to think about what is effective in stopping the spread of this disease.”
Throughout the pandemic, Newsom and government officials have been pressured to lift restrictions from some business owners and a vociferous minority of Californians who have been opposed to most forms of government intervention.
But a recent poll suggests that Newsom’s decision to end mask mandates may actually come too soon for many of his supporters.
About the same time, the state said so planned to remove the mandate for indoor mask for vaccinated Californians on February 15, only 20% of registered voters said the pandemic had subsided enough to remove special precautions, such as masks, in public settings, according to. a poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. These respondents included only 6% of Democrats polled and 46% of Republicans. The vast majority of Democrats, 41%, said they did not think it would be safe enough to do so until next year.
A breakdown of that question showed that those who approved Newsom’s performance as governor were also much more likely to say that it would not be safe to remove masks indoors until next year, while those who were strongly dismissive were very more likely to say that it is already safe enough.
“I would say he is somewhat ahead of his base,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. »Things to get back to normal would benefit jobs and finances, which usually in an election year is the number 1 problem that the established will take care of. He is running for re-election and he wants the economy back. “
DiCamillo said Newsom is “impatient” like some, but not all voters, and does not want to give its GOP critics any room.
“One of the reasons he’s coming forward is because he expects criticism from the Republican camp when he runs in the primary and then ultimately in the parliamentary election, and he has to defend himself or inoculate himself from. the attacks, “DiCamillo said. .
Newsom has built his career on a reputation for being ahead of the curve, demonstrated by his early support for gay marriage in San Francisco and as the first governor to issue a nationwide home-based order when the virus struck in 2020.
But DiCamillo and others warn that being too far ahead of California’s pandemic comfort level could be problematic for a governor who has received praise for his health-first approach. Out of more than half a dozen questions examined in the vote, the governor received among the highest marks for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pan said the poll shows that those who want to remove mask rules now are many of the same people who have opposed vaccine claims for years and opposed most of the governor’s orders. A larger proportion of Californians who are still concerned about the virus and comfortable with precautions may not be that loud, but they will weigh in on election day.
“I think if for some reason we lift the mask mandates prematurely and the cases go up while not necessarily marching around the Capitol, then I think they’re going to say at the ballot box: ‘You guys abused this pandemic, and you put my family in danger, “Pan said.” In fact, they made their voices heard when Governor Newsom ran on vaccine mandates and strong public health in the recall, and he crushed the opposition. “