Did California Governor Gavin Newsom mishandle the COVID-19 pandemic?

(Tiếng Việt)

In April 2021, Californians successfully petitioned to hold a special election on Sept. 14, 2021. The election will determine whether Governor Gavin Newsom will be recalled and removed from office, and replaced with a new governor. 

One of the key motivating factors was voter anger over COVID-19 restrictions enacted by Newsom and his team: A poll in early 2021 showed widespread disapproval of the vaccination efforts as well as restrictions on large public gatherings. Texas and Florida, the next two most populous states after California, were used as examples of how to better balance COVID-19 restrictions with the need to reopen businesses, schools, and churches. 

At the time voters petitioned for this recall, the vaccine rollout had just started in the U.S. and COVID-19 infections and deaths nationwide were dropping rapidly. 

Larry Elder, currently the Republican frontrunner to replace Newsom, said at an event on Aug. 22 that if he is elected governor, he will repeal California’s mask and vaccine mandates. Other Republican candidates have also stated on record that they look to adopt looser public health measures, including denying the ability for local city governments to make or enforce mask and vaccine mandates.

Much has changed since April 2021. As of Aug. 22, 2021, almost 80% of California’s eligible population had been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, 10% higher than Florida and 17% higher than Texas. Florida has fared far worse in the face of the Delta strain of COVID-19, which now represents the vast majority of cases in the U.S. Florida now has 3 times the infection rate of California, per 100,000 people. Texas has twice the infection rate, per 100,000 people, of California.

Of greater concern is the death rate: Florida, a state with about half the population of California, has four times as many COVID-19 deaths. When correcting for population, this means that Florida has a death rate eight times greater than California. Texas has a death rate that is over three times greater than California. Also worth noting is that California’s death rate has remained steady over the last four weeks, without the enormous rise observed in both Texas and Florida.

The key difference between California versus Florida and Texas: California continues to have public mask mandates and vaccination requirements, while Florida and Texas have abandoned mask mandates and currently have no vaccine requirements.

In terms of hospitalizations, as of Aug. 20, California has an available capacity of 22% of all ICU beds, where Texas has only 8% and Florida has 7% free. Both Texas and Florida are rapidly approaching the point where they will not be able to give critically ill and injured patients life-saving care due to the lack of capacity. Triage protocols, decisions to prioritize care based on likelihood of survival, have already been enacted at hospitals in Texas and Florida.

Despite stricter public health measures than either Texas or Florida, California continues to reduce unemployment through the summer, with the most recent July 2021 report from the state of California showing that job growth is continuing

Many Californians are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses. However, according to economists at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, California businesses are expected to outpace the country in economic recovery.

Meanwhile, in an Axios survey of 1,041 adults, 65% support mask and vaccine mandates in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, representing some of the country’s largest retailers such as Target and Best Buy, has stated that it believes government mandates on mask wearing is essential to keeping businesses open.

Based on the statements of the candidates seeking to replace Newsom, it appears likely that a recall of the governor will result in policy changes that will reduce or eliminate mask requirements or vaccine requirements.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents 15,000 healthcare workers in California, opposes the recall efforts, saying, “We need our leaders to focus on a safe and equitable recovery from a pandemic that has devastated our members and communities. A recall threatens the progress we need now to support the health and safety of all Californians.”