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Your Say: Grading Gavin Newsom's handling of the pandemic

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 12/17/2020 U-T Letters
Gavin Newsom wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: California Gov. Gavin Newsom in one of his weekly coronavirus updates. © Provided by The LA Times California Gov. Gavin Newsom in one of his weekly coronavirus updates.

Newsom did better than many leaders

Gov. Gavin Newsom gets an A- for the way he has handled state policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has communicated well, projecting both competence and empathy. Unfortunately, the script that was provided to him was severely lacking.

The original “stay at home order” in March 2020 had the goals of preserving hospital capacity and “flattening the curve” of infections. The necessity for drastic action was obvious from the disasters that occurred in northern Italy and New York City. The script that Gov. Newsom was reciting from opted for a “go weak, go slow” approach as compared to the “go early, go strong” strategy of New Zealand; the latter has been stunningly more successful both in preserving lives and the economy. Activity in California was reduced by 40% and by May the curve was flattened, but containment of SARS-CoV-2 requires that the curve be “crushed.”

Instead of stumbling out of the blocks in March, Gov. Newsom should have been advised to take steps to reduce personal activity by 90%, a true stay-at-home order with few exceptions. The number of daily new infections should have been brought to single digits in San Diego. During April and May, plans and procedures should have been developed to support persons with housing, food, bill payment, educational and job security issues. Mass testing and contact tracing to control this virus, one with predominantly airborne transmission, often leaving people asymptomatic yet infectious, was/is a fantasy. Nevertheless, targeted testing and tracing would have been useful to maintain that reduced number of new infections.

With decisive action, the “pain” could have endured two months instead of the nine months and counting we are experiencing. Instead we have made the Faustian bargain of lives, more than 1,000 in San Diego County, 20,000 in California, and 300,000 in the U.S. to date, for vaccines. On the bright side, it could have been worse if we had governors like those in the Dakotas, Florida or Texas who have led their states on paths leading to double or triple the number of deaths per state resident.

The media could have improved the odds of public acceptance by avoiding negative terms, such as harsh, severe, draconian, etc., to describe Newsom’s prescriptions. Frame them as beneficial, life-saving, etc., thereby emphasizing the positive aspects.

By the way, Gov. Newsom’s “minus” is for the French Laundry dinner.

Mark J. Tracy, Carlsbad

Results do not look good for governor

All that matters about Gov. Newsom’s performance is the awful results: schools and businesses closed for longer than nearly any other state or country, devastating educational and developmental impacts to children, and crushing economic and physical/mental health impacts to millions. Yet hospitalization and death rates are horrific, similar to many other less restricted locations and significantly worse than many Asian and South Pacific democracies.

Newsom’s early lockdown flattened the curve and allowed time to learn enough about the coronavirus to manage it, including how it transmits, who the vulnerable are and what precautions slow the spread. But he failed to heed any of those lessons.

Newsom’s biggest failure is testing. He never recognized the critical difference between COVID-19 and earlier pandemics, which were controlled by recognizing symptomatic people, quickly quarantining them and then testing to confirm infection. We have done only this traditional testing of those who are symptomatic or think they were exposed, but this virus is spread primarily by those who are asymptomatic and do not think they were exposed. Hence, the only way to slow it is to test everyone frequently.

We needed to test everyone once or twice a week with cheap, 15-minute antigen tests as soon as they became available in July. Identifying most carriers quickly would have far outweighed any inaccuracies; such tests could confirm infection once quarantined. We could have tested essential workers first until we had sufficient tests, but we could have had tens of millions in a few weeks (as several Asian countries did).

Newsom ignored the science:

1) Schools should have opened in May. Overwhelming data shows the virus rarely spreads in schools and children do not transmit it well.

2) There should have been no outdoor activity limits except requiring masks when near others for several minutes, and avoiding congregating (e.g. concerts).

3) The constantly changing metrics used for rules have rarely been logical or valid — it’s taken nine months to finally use the only useful metrics: hospitalizations and deaths.

Newsom utterly failed to compensate impacted business owners and employees. No business should have been allowed to fail. Once federal support ran out, California should have compensated any business owners and employees impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

Newsom’s dictatorial, condescending style, combined with constantly changing arbitrary rules and metrics, provoked both passive and active resistance, exacerbated by his gross hypocrisy — a leader sells a message by convincing his people it is correct and important, and leading by example. A few consistent, logical rules (100% mask usage indoors, social distancing), backed by effective testing and economic support for those impacted, would have produced far better compliance.

Finally, Newsom’s unwillingness or inability to fix the Employment Development Department’s horrendous problems (550,000 backlogged cases nine months in, more than $1 billion in fraud) speaks for itself.

The reality is that California ended up with the worst of all worlds, a completely out-of-control pandemic, millions economically devastated for years to come, and our children’s education and social development irreparably damaged.

Marty Cohen, Mira Mesa

We should focus on the most vulnerable

Sadly, the new directives directed by Gavin Newsom are far too broad and simplistic, such as to eliminate all outdoor dining. At the same time we are free to go to Walmart and many other similar venues. Many of these directives seem to ignore the efforts by many local business establishments to adapt their facilities and observe the recommended three-step safe practices.

The San Diego Union Tribune publishes some very useful data daily, and there is more data if you go to the website. The data for Dec. 4, 2020, is revealing and indicates as follows:

 The age 60+ group is just 20% of the population but accounts for 85% of all deaths.

 The age 70+ group is 10% of the population but constitutes 67% of all deaths.

 The age 80+ group is 4% of the population but has 44% of the deaths.

Looking further at data on the U-T site, we see 95% of people (1,005 of the 1,047) who died had underlying health issues.

The data suggests that we would benefit from pursuing policies that are far more focused on the relatively smaller group of highly vulnerable people — those older than 70 and those with underlying health problems. We should also attempt to understand why the Hispanic/Latino population is experiencing disproportionate infection rates. We have the means to identify most of the high-risk people; they are ones who need to observe safe practices 100% and also get the most comprehensive health treatment possible. Our health practitioners should be encouraged to reach out to the most vulnerable.

It’s clear to most people that this virus is very dangerous and seems to spread easily. So observing good health practices is mandatory. But the data does not support more of the same draconian restrictive policies that we endured earlier this year with devastating impact on millions of our people. The current Newsom directive represents the easiest kind to define but doesn’t follow any reasonable logic. We know who is most vulnerable.

We need to set our government guidance and directives where we can achieve the best results. The easy path is not the best path. Let’s not mandate unnecessary restrictions that are certain to result in further damage to the small business community enterprises — most of whom are already operating safely at substantial expense.

Charles Bohle, Rancho Bernardo

Early actions helped keep crisis in check

I feel that Gavin Newsom has generally done a good job handling this pandemic. I credit him and his early, aggressive policies for the fact that, as of this writing, 39 other states have had a deadlier outcome handling the virus. Remember, about 12% of Americans live here. And if you live in a state run by one of Trump’s viceroys, such as Florida, Texas or Arizona, you live in a state that erroneously equates safety and common sense with restrictions on personal freedom.

The current opposition to Newsom likes to point out that he attended a dinner without wearing a mask, without taking the precautions that he has been insisting everyone follow. To them this makes him a hypocrite worthy of recall. Newsom did admit what he did was wrong, that he made a mistake. The last time I heard any of those on the Trump right admit to a mistake is, well, they never have and never will.

I find this argument a bit of meta-hypocrisy. For Trump supporters to call out Newsom as a hypocrite is laughable. Given the intense level of conspiracy theory-mongering, outright criminality, misunderstanding of our Constitution and general lack of knowledge as to how our government works, they have propelled hypocrisy to a high art form.

If anything, I am critical of Newsom for not being aggressive enough. I felt we should never have “reopened,” for example. The restaurant industry, hair salons and other personal service businesses do have an argument for special attention, I agree. I feel this would be more appropriately handled at the federal level. If the federal government can print billions of dollars to bail out the struggling 1%, then it can certainly print money to bail out the restaurant and personal service sector. The states cannot.

Let’s face it: Those who oppose Newsom do so not because of the dinner transgression. It would not matter if this had occurred or not. They would still want him recalled. I seem to remember seeing a signature drive for this even before COVID-19. No, it’s because he is a Democrat.

David Terry, Lakeside

Additional essays

We have been constantly told my medical and public health experts that there is science behind wearing a mask to prevent or at least slow down the spread of COVID. Yet our governor, instead of mandating an order for compulsory wearing of a mask in public, instead issued an order to close down outdoor restaurant dining and close barber shops and beauty and nail salons, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs and probably closing hundreds of businesses in the state and which has little scientific data to justify it.

I hope that voters remember this and his other bungling of the COVID-19 crisis when he runs for re-election in two years.

David E. Jones , Vista

I saw on TV our governor say he empathizes with those who are struggling. Give me a break! He still has his $200,000 a year job and has never closed down his office (or any other government office) and he claims he can feel for us?! And he eats in $300-a-plate restaurants during the lock down? Sad to say, he is not the only government official who is shutting down our lives and then violating their own rules. (The champion of this seems to be the Governor of Michigan.) I hope everyone remembers this when the next election time comes. And remember, Democrats always run on a platform of how they care for us little guys, but once in office they abandon their promises.

To show you how little he knows about our state, he divided up the state into regions, and in our Southern California region he has put all the way up the Eastern Sierra to Mono County? He better go back to grade school if he thinks that is so. Mono Lake is over 400 miles from us, and they are going to have to suffer because of what happens in the real Southern California? I would bet they are laughing at the lock down going on now.

Dale Dickerson, El Cajon

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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