For weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom has been crisscrossing the state, boasting that California is “roaring back” from the health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, however, he had to interrupt his victory lap because a nasty variant of coronavirus, dubbed “delta,” is roaring through the state, just a few weeks after Newsom had lifted personal and economic restrictions.
“As of last week, California’s statewide case rate more than quadrupled from a low in May of 1.9 cases (per) 100,000 (per) day to at least 9.5 cases (per) 100,000,” the state reported. “Our testing positivity was at a low of 0.7% in June, now it has risen to 5.2%. Our hospitalizations were at a low in June of under 900, and we are now approaching 3,000.”
State and Health Care Workers Required to Show Proof of Vaccination
Newsom pleaded with millions of unvaccinated Californians to get the jab and ordered “all state workers and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week.” He also urged local government and private employers to do the same.
“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” Newsom said during a webcast news conference. “As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same. Vaccines are safe; they protect our family, those who truly can’t get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic.”
Millions of Californians Still Unvaccinated
Naturally, reporters asked Newsom whether he would reinstate mask wearing orders, as Los Angeles County has done and several other urban areas have recommended to their residents. However, he fended off those questions, as well as those asking whether teachers will be required to be vaccinated before in-person classes resume in a few weeks.
About three-quarters of the Californians who are eligible for vaccinations — adults and older children — have received at least one dose, but that leaves millions still unvaccinated and “the vast majority of new cases are among the unvaccinated, with 600% higher case rates among the unvaccinated than for those who are vaccinated,” Newsom’s office said.
So who, one might wonder, are the Californians who have refused to be vaccinated. A new survey by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health found sharp variations by ethnicity, geography and economic class but they are not the right-wing Trumpies often pictured in the media.
Among the Findings:
—While 12% of adult Californians stated that they would not get the vaccine, those in rural areas have the highest refusal rates;
—By ethnicity, Black Californians have the highest rates of vaccine avoidance at 22.1%, followed by multiracial adults (21.1%) and Latinos (13.6%);
—The poorest adults are also the least likely to seek vaccination, as are those with high school educations or less.
If, as Newsom says, the key to dealing with the Delta variant is accelerating vaccination rates, reaching these refuseniks is the difficult task he faces. And whether Newsom corrals this new chapter of the pandemic obviously could affect how Californians vote on recalling him seven weeks hence.
Although Newsom is widely favored to beat the recall, especially since there’s no standout favorite among his would-be successors, he has counted on Californians endorsing his “roaring back” mantra to erase residual bitterness about his management of the crisis. It will be hard to maintain that upbeat attitude if the Delta variant continues to roar.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.