Sunday Commentary: California Has Led the Way on the Response to COVID-19

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California so far has avoided the fate of Italy, Spain and New York.  Why?  Social distancing and aggressive stay-at-home orders.

Three weeks ago, California counties stunned, really the world, by ordering their citizens to shelter in place.  The Washington Post points out: “Two weeks into stay-at-home orders and business and school closures in the San Francisco Bay area and Washington state, there’s evidence the curve of infections is flattening compared with other U.S. metro areas.”

That is the key to fighting this thing from two key standpoints.  First, because it prevents what is happening in New York, where hospitals are overwhelmed and doctors and medical supplies are in short supply.

Second, it will buy us time to allow for new innovations.

Last week, I was excited about the wide availability of new testing that will show results in five to 15 minutes.  Why?  Because if we know who has the disease, we can quarantine them, and if we know who doesn’t, we can put them back to work.

A new announcement could further that.

Governor Newsom announced that a new immunity test from Stanford could screen and allow people who are immune from the virus to go back to work.

“The testing space has been challenging for us, and I own that,” Governor Newsom said during a news conference. “I have a responsibility as your governor to do more and to better.”

He told the media on Saturday that the Stanford blood test is just “hours” away from federal approval and could allow people to begin to return to work

Unlike others, these tests are “serological,” and “could determine whether someone has developed antibodies to the coronavirus. In theory, those who develop immunity may be able to safely interact with others without catching or spreading it.”

That would be a game changer.

Dr. Charity Dean, assistant director at the California Department of Public Health, said it would be used on Californians in the coming week.

“We’re very excited that this is a California homegrown test,” she said during the news conference.

None of this works without the social distancing component which has allowed us to ward off disaster.

But the overall national picture is concerning.  Most states now have over 1000 cases.  Cases are rising fast in places like Florida, Louisiana and Georgia.

Moreover, there are still eight states that do not have stay-at-home orders—despite Dr. Anthony Fauci’s call for a national stay-at-home order.

“I don’t understand why that’s not happening,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told the media this week.  “The tension between federally mandated versus states’ rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into,” he said. “But if you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that.”

A week ago, somehow, observers were baffled that, despite the missteps by the current administration, President Trump was getting good marks for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

At the time, I pointed out that there is actually a lag between events and public opinion surveys—some of that is simply a matter of when people are sampled, and some of it is that it perhaps takes awhile for people to react to changing circumstances.

Two weeks ago was probably the most coherent that the president has been—perhaps in his entire term. That has changed in the last week.

Sure enough, an ABC News poll released Friday found that the numbers have reversed, with 52 percent disapproving of President Trump’s handling of the response compared to 47 approving. That is a reversal of the previous poll which saw 55 percent approve and 43 disapprove.

We need to remember that polls are snapshots of probably a week-old data.  This is a changing and dynamic situation and those polls just can’t keep up.

It’s dangerous to attempt to project things for this president, but he really has two things working against him. One is that the cases are now 258,000 with 6600 deaths, and the other is the 6.6 million who filed jobless claims last week—and the number is expected to get worse next week.

In fairness, while the poorly rolled out response is on the president, the decision by him to continue attacking opposition leaders like Charlie Schumer is on him, while the economy is really not—but remember, he was propped up by a strong economy a month ago and, fault or not, that prop is gone.

I do think the op-ed in the NY York Times on Friday by James Baker, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council, was on point: “The administration has all the authority it needs to produce medical supplies and prepare for a potential vaccine.”

I would put some blame on both parties, but I think the stimulus plan should have focused less on nominal cash disbursements and more about creating temporary jobs to enable people to keep working despite this crisis.

We have short supplies, we are low on medical staff and space, and the government—and specifically the president—has the authority to do something.

As Mr. Baker points out: “This isn’t a passing crisis; we will need more of everything in two months, six months and maybe years.”

And as he points out further: “The federal government has all the authority it needs to close the supply gap, allocate resources among states, and prepare for the production and distribution of the vaccine to come. Until the federal government demonstrates — with statistics, contracts and timelines — that the gap is closed and the vaccine pipeline is ready, we should ask: Why isn’t the government bringing its full arsenal to the fight?”

The president from the start of this crisis has been in denial—and now he is attempting to do damage control when he really needs to just jump in.

A good example of that is NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has emerged from this as an ironic hero.

Personally, I think that is overblown. I remember when people lionized Rudy Giuliani during 9/11 when he was proclaimed America’s Mayor. Never mind Abner Louima (the Haitian man brutalized by NYPD) and Guiliani at the time, and watch how Mayor Rudy has played out over the rest of his career.

People are forgetting that one reason why New York is in such bad shape is that Governor Cuomo was not nearly as quick to lock things down as, say, Governor Newsom.

Those urging him to get drafted as President should remember that his record in NY is kind of “meh.” Even now, he’s reversing bail reform in New York and has failed to stop the crisis at Rikers, as we have been covering.

In a biting commentary in New York Magazine: “Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have each been dangerously slow to let people go free, leaving thousands of vulnerable prisoners to weather the pandemic’s ravages, particularly on Rikers Island, where the rate of infection is seven times that of the city surrounding it.”

But that’s not what people are noticing at the moment. What many are seeing in governors like Newsom and Cuomo is the semblance of leadership and empathy completely missing from the president.

Friday’s big roll-out is a great example of how to step on the message. Trump rolls out new recommendations on using masks in public, but then emphasizes that he won’t be wearing one.

That’s not helpful.

Leadership has been in short supply at the national level.  The difference between being aggressive and proactive, and not, is the difference between California and some other states that are or will be in far worse shape in the coming weeks.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: California Has Led the Way on the Response to COVID-19”

  1. Tia Will

    I think the stimulus plan should have focused less on nominal cash disbursements and more about creating temporary jobs to enable people to keep working despite this crisis.”

    That may prove true once we have an immunity test that demonstrates for whom it is safe to return to a workplace. It is a perilous strategy unless those new jobs can all be done from home at a time when “shelter in place” is our strongest policy to prevent spread.

  2. Keith Olsen

    I can’t believe my comment was removed here.

    It was well within all the comment policies for the Vanguard.

    This is getting ridiculous.

    1. David Greenwald

      This article was supposed to be Monday morning quarterbacking – where we are, what has worked, where we are going…  Tell me, do you believe that California has had the right approach thus far on this?

  3. Keith Olsen

    Jan 14, WHO declared no evidence of human-to-human transmission of virus.-
    Jan 31, Trump bans travel from Wuhan, press cites “experts” claiming it is counterproductive.-
    Feb 1, Florence holds “Hug a Chinese Person Day”.-
    Feb 4, President Trump dedicates part of State of the Union Address to the Coronavirus issue-
    Feb 9, NYC holds Chinatown parade with assurances of no danger from the mayor-
    Feb 23, 1st evidence of community transfer within U.S.-
    Feb 24, Pelosi says to shop more: “‘Come to Chinatown … come join us”-
    Feb 25, Mardi Gras was held with few people sounding warnings-
    Feb 26, Pence takes over task force, daily briefings begin.-
    March 1, just 42 confirmed cases in U.S.-
    March 3, NYC mayor encourages New Yorkers to go to the movies.-
    March 5, NYC mayor rides the subway to assure people it is safe to do so.-
    March 11, WHO acknowledged a pandemic scale virus on March 11

    1. Ron Glick

      March 10, my personal sequestration began out of caution not because of exposure.

      Many mistakes have been made but the President is the person at the top of our government and if it happens on his watch he is responsible. Harry Truman said “The buck stops here.”

      Trump says “I don’t take responsibility at all…”

      Truman also said “If you can’t handle the heat get out of the kitchen.” Time will tell if the American people think Trump can handle the heat.

      The President sets the tone of the national discussion. This President, through the tone of his remarks, has made it hard for many to take this pandemic seriously and much time has been  lost as a result.

      When Obama took over it still took several more months of job losses before things bottomed. His political opponents used the numbers from 1-20-09 as a starting point for judging his economic performance even though unemployment is a lagging indicator. Its simply the way it works, right or wrong, if it happens on your watch as President you are held responsible. As former Acting Chief of Staff Mic Mulvaney famously said “Get over it.”

      1. Mark West

        We are greater than three years into the President’s four-year term. By now he has his own people in place following his directions so he really has no one to blame but himself if things don’t go well.

    2. Alan Miller

      Jan 14, WHO declared . . . etc.

      So in other words, both sides were slow to admit and come to terms and wanted people to continue in the economy until the reality hit, and both sides can point to deficiencies with the other as it all came to be.  How about both sides just shut the f*ck up for a few months.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Actually, it was ‘taking sides’ that screwed things up in the first place… had ‘doing the right thing’, as opposed to “hooray for my side”, governed, we might all have been better off… just a thought…

        Intelligent cooperation… far less likely than say, finding an effective vaccine and/or cure in the next six days…

        You are correct… brains often work better, when mouths are closed… heard that it is an acoustical thing… also best if craniums are not placed in loose, tiny pulverized rock strata, or in orifices… particularly when one’s mouth is open…

      2. Tia Will

        There are some very good reasons for neither side to just shut up.

        1. We need to do ongoing assessments openly providing transparency of all processes. If you wonder why that matters, look only at the differences in practice between Yolo County and the Florida counties that left their beaches open for spring break. We seem to be seeing a flattening of the curve here, whereas Florida and Louisiana are experiencing sharp increases. Historically we can see the tragic consequences in this in the variable effects of the 1918 flu on Philadelphia and St. Louis the latter of which practiced social distancing while the former did not.

        2. It is fine to wait until after a catastrophic event in medicine to do your debriefing if it is an event of short duration such as wrong-site surgery. It is critical to do such self-assessment while the event is ongoing if it is a prolonged event such as a pandemic.

        3. Of course, these evaluations should not be politically retributive but rather focused on what improvements we can make as this disease runs its course. I could do without the fingerpointing, but an investigation now and ongoing is clearly called for.

         

         

         

    1. Bill Marshall

      Perhaps… will give more credit to his advisors… Newsom isn’t smart enough to think that up on his own… but he deserves smartness points for listening to his advisors, and acting on it…

        1. Bill Marshall

          Sure… that’s particularly important for what office/orifice said head may find itself… some not so well shaped craniums get ‘stuck’ in certain offices/orifices…

      1. Tia Will

        Whatever one may think about Gavin Newsom’s intelligence, he was certainly far-sighted enough to realize that a governmental entity as large and complex as the state of California would benefit from a larger focus on public health including the appointment of our own surgeon general. I consider it a welcome sign of intelligence when a public figure has enough insight to realize what they are not experts in all fields and to appoint competent individuals to provide advice in their areas of relative weakness.

  4. Alan Miller

    and if we know who doesn’t, we can put them back to work.

    Where they can be exposed?  Doesn’t work that way . . . especially for older workers and those at risk.  I suspect many will continue to telecommute and social distance long after the shelter order is raised, and until a vaccine is widely available.

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