As March of 2021 comes to a close, many people are reflecting back on the events of this same month exactly one year ago. March 2021 marks the first anniversary of events that drastically changed all of our lives — from Berkeley High School’s (BHS) final day of school, to the first day California Governor Gavin Newsom made an executive order addressing the then novel COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Newsom’s orders were exactly what the people needed. But as this past year of the pandemic has gone on, Newsom has made some questionable decisions, and currently, there is a recall movement against him. While the recall movement is illogical, Newsom has made some critical mistakes.
In that first wave of the pandemic, Newsom became a figurehead for many people, especially as the federal government failed to address the pandemic with any clear plan. Californians were confident in the way that Newsom looked to scientists when making his policy decisions. In May, public support for Newsom was at 64 percent, according to one poll done by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). But over time, Newsom’s approval ratings have dropped, and he is no longer seen as a public figure who can do no wrong.
Let’s fast forward one month, to the beginning of June. This was when the movement for a recall election started to gain traction. Supporters of this movement are majority conservative — both the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the California State Republican Party (CRNC) made large donations in support of the recall. The fact that this recall is still very partisan raises some red flags. It’s no surprise that Republicans are more supportive of a recall when it is on the basis of policies that are “too restrictive.” Newsom started to receive widespread discontent when he expressed disapproval for people going to church and to the beach — activities that should definitely not occur in the middle of a pandemic and therefore did in fact need these restrictive policies. A more valid concern raised by the recall movement is the concern for small businesses and the economy during this time. However, in most instances, the safety of the workers and community still required that these restrictive policies be enforced.
Looking back at where Newsom might have made some critical mistakes, it’s important to examine not June, but December. This was when Newsom and California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly decided to enforce a second stay-at-home order statewide, closing all outdoor dining. This decision is why critics accuse Newsom in part for the large winter surge of reported cases that started around this time.
In one LA Times article, Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at University of California San Francisco, speculated that these restrictions on outside dining led to more irresponsible backyard hang-outs and larger more relaxed group interactions. Without the more guided and organized distancing that restaurants could do, the coronavirus might have spread even more throughout this second stay-at-home order. This hypothesis is hard to prove, but regardless, we can’t pretend that this second stay-at-home order was successful in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Here, Newsom’s policies placed unnecessary strain on local economies and did not take the harm reduction approach that was needed.
Now, we have entered a new era of the pandemic: the era of the vaccine. Since mid-January, reported COVID-19 cases have decreased significantly. As of April 2, the 14-day change in reported cases is down 10 percent, and we can credit this change largely to the vaccine. It’s clear that the vaccine rollout has been effective to a certain extent. But could Newsom be doing a better job at getting these vaccines to the people who need them?
In recent weeks, Californians have questioned whether the vaccine has been equitably distributed. Since COVID-19 has hit Black and Latinx communities harder than white communities, governments like Newsom’s should be focused on getting the vaccine out to those communities. Equity has continuously been a promise made by state officials, including by the governor himself.
According to reported state data, 2.9 percent of vaccine doses have gone to Black residents, 13 percent to Asian Americans, and 16 percent to Latinos of the 7.3 million doses administered in California. Compared to the 32.7 percent that have gone to white residents, these percentages don’t show a lot of the “equitable distribution” that Newsom initially promised. Many Californians have expressed this sentiment, and Newsom himself admitted that the rollout could be better. With this recall attempt nipping at his heels, it would be a good idea to fix these statistics fast if he wants support from the liberal majority.
Looking back on this past year and the way that Newsom and leaders around the country have responded to the pandemic, the lesson to be learned is that in politics, nothing is everlasting. These leaders will make mistakes, and in situations like the one we are in now, these mistakes can cost lives.