Last summer, while trying to survive a recall effort, California governor Gavin Newsom claimed that Texas middle-class families “pay more taxes than middle-class families in California” and challenged doubters to “look that up.” A few months later, he swore that “violent crime and property crime” is “higher in Texas than in California.”
Because Newsom is a media darling, his exaggerations didn’t hurt him politically. So he’s free to continue to dish out misinformation. “We’d have 40,000 more Californians dead” if he had followed Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s approach to the pandemic, Newsom said last month while appearing on ABC’s The View. Though Newsom seems to have pulled that 40,000 number out of the ether, it is true that California did do a little better than Florida when looking at Covid deaths per 100,000 residents (California’s number currently stands at 110, against Florida’s 128—both of which are below the national average of 138). But if he believes that his lockdown regime was the reason for California’s lower rate, he’s deluding himself.
A year ago, one media outlet called California “the most locked down state across the country,” and San Diego County “the most locked down county in the state, with Los Angeles County about the same.” It might be hard to recall now, but California was the first state to shut down its economy and movement of people, and it appears that it will be the last to restore those lost liberties. While Newsom and other public officials were telling Californians that they were better off hiding under their beds, people were “flocking to Florida to find freedom, as other states and countries continue to keep their citizens locked down,” according to the James Madison Institute. In the spring of 2020, while Newsom was increasing his powers through executive orders, making a dodgy $1 billion mask deal with a Chinese company, and holding his made-for-TV performances every day at noon, DeSantis was already easing restrictions. By September of that year, all statewide rules in Florida were gone, never to return.
To the media, Florida was “reckless” in abandoning the rules. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the state the “poster child for red-state Covid disaster” and said that DeSantis was operating a “death cult.” But it turns out the vilified DeSantis made the right decisions. The lockdowns Newsom has desperately clung to appear to have been an exercise in pandemic theater: a recent meta-study from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise found that they “had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality.” But they did impose “enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted. In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.” These findings back up John Tierney’s analysis, published a year ago in City Journal, that lockdowns resulted in “more deaths from other causes, especially among the young and middle-aged, minorities, and the less affluent,” and were a “failed experiment” that “must end.”
So if the lockdowns weren’t the source of California’s slightly better performance, then it must be the mask mandates, right? DeSantis never ordered a statewide mask mandate, while Newsom has issued multiple orders requiring Californians to mask up.
Of course, those rules were apparently optional to those who imposed them. Twice, Newsom was caught in social gatherings mask-less. First, in November 2020, he was spotted at a celebrated Napa Valley restaurant, enjoying the company of a group of well-heeled friends. His second offense came during last month’s National Football Conference championship game at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Newsom and others, including Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and San Francisco mayor London Breed, mugged for the cameras with bare faces, though the rules say they were supposed to be masked.
Their justifications were on the level of what we would expect from grade-schoolers caught sneaking cookies. Newsom claimed he acted in a “very judicious” manner, removing his mask only to be photographed with Magic Johnson. Garcetti said that he held his breath while his photo was taken. While they deserve to be exposed for their hypocrisy, practically speaking, they caused no harm—because, as it turns out, mask mandates likely have not worked.
So perhaps there’s some other explanation for California’s Covid numbers. Vaccination rates? Let’s check. Centers for Disease Control data show that, in a state with 39.5 million residents, a little over 69.5 million vaccine doses had been administered in California by February 2. On that same date, nearly 35.4 million vaccine doses had been administered in Florida, population 21.5 million, slightly more than half of California’s. And regarding the two-dose regiment, there’s not a large gap between the states: 69 percent of Californians are considered fully vaccinated, while 65 percent of Floridians have gotten all their shots.
It is far more likely that other factors beyond the control of either Newsom or DeSantis, like demographics, influenced outcomes in their respective states. Florida’s over-65 population, for instance, is more than 30 percent higher than California’s. That doesn’t fit Newsom’s narrative, which for two years has held to a “truth” about state-level policies on lockdowns and mask mandates that isn’t true. But Governor Newsom knows that, when it comes to his own brand of misinformation, he’s not likely to get the Joe Rogan treatment.
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