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Statewide order for masks would pose political challenge for Newsom

With the spread of COVID-19 on the rise, Governor Gavin Newsom faces a delicate decision about whether to re-impose state-wide mask requirements in all indoor public places and could upset Californians just a few weeks before deciding whether to be recalled from office.

In Los Angeles County, home to one in four Californians, residents are required to wear masks in these settings, whether or not they are vaccinated. Seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area recommended the use of masks last week, as did Sacramento and Yolo counties, to help stem the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.

Although the Newsom administration has so far deferred to counties, that could change if California continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“There were so many times during the pandemic where it was hard to know what I would do,” said Dr. Karen Smith, a communicable disease physician and former director of the California Department of Public Health. “This is actually the most difficult.”

Newsom did not directly respond to a question at a press conference in Sonoma County on Monday when asked about the possibility of a world-wide indoor mask warrant. State, instead of dancing around the delicate political subject.

“I see counties all over the state, including here, recommending the wearing of masks indoors,” Newsom said, before pointing out that the American Academy of Pediatrics is “fundamentally aligned” with the controversial mandate. state on masks in schools.

“We are committed to making it happen, not to impose further restrictions, but we are also committed to dealing with this latest increase in the number of new cases here in the state of California,” Newsom said, adding that his administration was “very aware of the heritable nature of this Delta variant.

“As a result, you not only see LA County as I noted, but the Bay Area counties follow through with some form of requirements or recommendations,” Newsom said. “It’s inevitable, if this continues.”

Any move could prove to be politically volatile for Newsom, given the politicization of COVID-19 vaccinations and the restrictions largely motivated by Republican leaders, including former President Trump, and the conservative media. Republicans who hope to replace Newsom after the September 14 recall election have already seized the issue of new mask mandates as another example of government overtaking.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has criticized Los Angeles County’s mandatory mask order, saying the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that such guidelines are unnecessary for women. people who have been vaccinated.

“If Gavin Newsom had any common sense he would object to this, which is what I will do as governor,” Faulconer said in a tweet last week.

Mark DiCamillo, director of polls at the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, said any restrictions Newsom imposed would energize Californians who want to oust Newsom from office. That alone would have an impact since the election could potentially depend on voter turnout, although all recent polls indicate that the recall will fail.

“Republicans and ‘yes’ voters see this as personal decisions, and, you know, imposing these kinds of terms is not right for that part of the electorate,” said DiCamillo.

The institute’s poll released in May found that among Californians who saw vaccination as a “personal choice,” 66% were in favor of Newsom’s recall from office. Among those who saw vaccinations as “everyone’s business”, only 16% were in favor of withdrawing it.

Rob Stutzman, Republican political consultant and former director of communications to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, said the divide over COVID-19 restrictions between Newsom loyalists and die-hard supporters of the recall is glaring, but not all Californians can be classified by these political extremes.

The imposition of a statewide mandate for wearing masks in indoor public places threatens to anger Californians who may still be undecided or hesitant about Newsom’s recall, Stutzman said.

“I think a lot of people who are vaccinated, who have done what they have been asked to do, will feel really upset,” he said. “I think going back on mandates involves a lot of political risk. It’s a slippery slope. The next thing that’s going to happen is health officials are going to push for restrictions on indoor meals again. Where is it going to end?

But Smith said those vaccinated aren’t the ones Newsom needs to worry about.

State investigations show that most Californians who have been vaccinated continue to wear masks in public spaces and mask themselves more often than those who have not been vaccinated, she said.

“When you recommend that even vaccinated people mask themselves, you won’t get your money’s worth because they are already masking themselves at a high rate,” she said. “The people who need more masking are the unvaccinated, and they won’t because they don’t already.”

Smith said the question of whether to go further and re-impose masks was difficult, but a statewide order seems premature given that vaccination rates in California are relatively high and that hospitalizations are low at this stage. She recommended a public awareness campaign explaining the benefits of continuing to wear masks ahead of any statewide restrictions.

“There aren’t really any good solutions here,” she said. “I don’t see a warrant coming in the near future. I don’t even see a referral coming in the next few weeks unless something like hospitalizations starts to increase. ”

Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a medical epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, called the Los Angeles County indoor mask “the simplest approach” to combating the disease. increased spread of COVID-19. Business operations will not be affected and no new physical distancing requirements are imposed.

“Wearing a mask is a very small price to pay to be able to improve the situation and reverse this upward trend,” said Kim-Farley. “There are still many who cannot yet be vaccinated – for example, all children under the age of 12. So in a sense, by wearing a mask, you are protecting them as well. “

Kim-Farley said that because about 52% of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated and others who have contracted COVID-19 have developed natural immunity, the region will not see anything comparable to the sharp increase in cases. which overwhelmed hospitals during the holidays at the end of 2020.

Yet, he warned, the virus is highly transmissible and poses a danger.

“If you are not vaccinated,” he said, “he will find you.”

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