How Governor Newsom Botched California’s COVID-19 Response

Written by Ainsley Jackman

With the six month mark of California’s first stay-at-home orders approaching, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the whole of the COVID-19 pandemic and evaluate the effectiveness of our state government’s response.

Starting from the beginning, Gov. Newsom’s initial shelter-in-place order in mid-March came in reaction to the first COVID-19-related deaths in California. The order came with the explicit objective of “flattening the curve”—slowing the spread so that our healthcare system wouldn’t be overwhelmed. In this goal, we were absolutely successful—many states doubled their hospital capacity only to find they had vastly overestimated the demand. Only a small fraction of U.S. hospitals were ever over-capacitated due to COVID-19, and only during the very peak of the first wave.

Meanwhile, the restrictions caused a massive economic plunge. Gov. Newsom used a system that divided “essential” and “non-essential” businesses to determine which could remain open—an arbitrary division that favored big businesses, including his own. Small businesses began disintegrating or downsizing rapidly, and California’s unemployment rate rose to 16.3% in May, compared to 4.1% in May 2019.

Of course, it’s difficult to blame our politicians for the initial devastation. With the initial information we had, their reactions seemed reasonable. But as time goes on and more evidence is brought to light showing that the virus itself is less dangerous than originally predicted and that the consequences of quarantine are even worse than we thought, the strategy has hardly changed. Or rather, it’s changed too much without any progress.

Newsom’s back-and-forth strategy from the beginning of summer through now—along with his four completely separate re-opening strategies—have pushed even more businesses off the deep end. He’s taken advantage of California’s State of Emergency to wrest power from local leaders who could target the needs of their own communities much more efficiently and effectively. His political maneuverings come at the expense of our economy and our education, despite the compelling case against closing K-12 schools, but at least they make one thing clear: our governor is no longer concerned about COVID-19, but instead about how he can leverage the virus for his own political advantage.

Unfortunately, Newsom is not alone, with others using newfound power based on fears of the pandemic to institute permanent and unjust change. For example, Judge Brad Seligman’s misuse of his power to abolish the use of standardized tests in University of California admissions.

And there is no end in sight, as Newsom’s new reopening plan literally has no “green zone” that would allow full functionality for all businesses. The original “flatten the curve” narrative has been completely dismissed, and it’s unclear what its replacement is. But if I had to put words to it, I’d describe it as something along the lines of “let’s just see if we can wait it out. Maybe if we wait long enough new jobs will suddenly appear too.” Needless to say, that is not a real strategy.

A safely reopened California might be a difficult goal, but it is certainly not an impossible one. The delay is a result of Gov. Newsom’s dangerous preoccupation with power, not the danger of the virus itself.


Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr