As your state senator, I have listened to people in our community voice their experiences and concerns on California’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In some instances, our community clearly agrees on an issue. In other cases, the community is split on how to tackle these challenging circumstances. Despite these divides, though, we must become more disciplined in our efforts to protect public health, responsibly restore our economy, and ultimately eliminate the pandemic so we can return to normalcy.
In addition to anecdotal insights from community members, my office recently administered two online surveys to better understand public sentiment within the 11 counties of the 8th Senate District. We received over 15,000 responses. By no means were these surveys scientific, but rather were focused on receiving community feedback.
What We Have Learned
- Masks: The clear majority of people support wearing a mask to protect themselves, others, and to help keep our local businesses open.
- Government Mandates: Many believe the governor’s mandates are confusing. There is little transparency in the administration’s decision-making processes and the governor is prone to change existing laws without the involvement of the Legislature.
- Local Control: The majority of people believe counties and cities should be empowered to tackle their respective public health challenges, as each region is different, and state intervention should only occur if there are failures at the local level.
- Schools: Most parents would prefer in-person instruction for their children. Some parents are not yet comfortable sending their children back to school and prefer distance learning. Yet a majority agree it should be up to local school districts, after meaningful consultation with teachers and parents, whether to open or close.
- Childcare: If children cannot return to the classroom, most would prefer and would benefit from childcare/daycare support when they need to reenter the workplace.
- Employment Development Department (EDD): An overwhelming number of people have contacted my office regarding the agency’s gross unpreparedness as they have failed to deliver unemployment benefits in a reasonable fashion. This has imposed unbelievable hardship on working individuals and families.
- COVID Lawsuits: Business owners and employees in our community are concerned about the need for legal protections against foreseeable COVID-19 lawsuits.
Consensus on a Path Forward
- We should defer to health experts and wear masks so we can keep each other safe and get our businesses and economy back open.
- The Legislature must reliably reconvene to fulfill its constitutional role as a co-equal branch of government. To do so, the Legislature must remove archaic legal impediments that prevent it from using remote voting technology to conduct the people’s business. California cannot have an absent Legislature and by default allow the state to be run solely by the executive.
- The governor and Legislature should empower local authorities with the necessary resources and medical support to succeed in fighting the virus, and only intervene if there are failures based upon identified metrics.
- Local school districts should provide a hybrid option, consider outdoor and alternative learning environments to the extent possible, and take all available precautions to protect the health of students, teachers, staff, and parents. This should be done in meaningful consultation with all necessary constituent groups.
- If the governor is going to continue mandating school closures, the state should devise a plan that would support working parents, which may include tax credits for the costs of child supervision.
- The state’s unemployment agency must improve its functionality and capacity to handle large caseloads during a crisis. The EDD must reevaluate its procedures and staffing levels to efficiently assist individuals needing unemployment assistance.
- Businesses and employees need legal protections from foreseeable COVID-19 lawsuits. I will be a principal co-author on Assembly Bill 1035, which will provide legal protections to businesses and employees on the condition they are in strict compliance with state and local health protocols.
We Must Do Better If We Are to End the Pandemic
In addition to the recommendations above, local authorities should do everything in their power to allow businesses to expand their operations to outdoor or alternative facilities and remove any local regulatory impediments. While the hot summer is not ideal for outdoor operations, cities like Turlock, Clovis, and Fresno are implementing these types of measures to protect the public and keep our local businesses operating.
Finally, there must be a coordinated state and national procurement strategy for personal protective equipment, trained medical personnel, and medical supplies so states and municipalities are not competing against one another in future emergencies. Improving vertical integration between federal, state, and local authorities is essential to protecting our economy, security, and public health. As a member of the Senate’s Pandemic Emergency Response Committee, I will continue to make these and other recommendations to the governor and Legislature.
We have learned painfully that the state of California and the United States must do better. The transmission rates in the U.S. are substantially higher than those of other countries, yet we are among the most advanced nations. We cannot allow political discord on the pandemic to continue to divide us in destructive and irreversible ways.
If we insist on productive solutions, based on reason, data and science, and the collective discipline to implement such solutions, we will emerge as a stronger state and nation. To do otherwise, would be a dereliction of our obligations as Americans.
About the Author
Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno, is a state senator representing the 8th District. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @SenatorBorgeas.