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Californians doing as their elected leaders do — ignoring lockdown orders

State's Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, other prominent elected officials flouting their own COVID-19 restrictions — so state residents are too.

Published: January 3, 2021 4:37pm

Updated: January 4, 2021 8:30am

California has now seen 2,345,909 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 26,000 have died from the virus, according to the state's public health department.

The number of cases spiked in mid-July, held steady through August and then plunged in September and October, according to state government numbers. But cases began rising in mid-November, hitting previous peak numbers from the summer (about 10,000 per day) — and never stopped going up. By Thanksgiving, they were running 15,000 a day, and the day after Christmas they hit more than 50,000.

Government officials have repeatedly locked down the state. On Dec. 3, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new "stay-at-home" order, which prohibited residents from gathering; ordered essential businesses such as grocery stores to operate at 20% capacity; shut down bars, wineries, salons and restaurant dining; and allowed hotels to remain open only for critical infrastructure support.

But that didn't work, either. On Dec. 22, Newsom said: "Based upon all the data, it’s very likely that we're going to extend the stay at home order." A few days later, he did just that.

But with the virus spiking in early winter, reports emerged that Californians weren't really curbing their gatherings or reducing their ventures outside of their homes. 

"California residents have not greatly reduced their visits to stores and workplaces since Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered them to stay at home in early December," the Modesto Bee reported based upon a review of mobility trend data collected by Google from cell phones.

"From Dec. 12 through Dec. 18, visits to California stores and restaurants were down an average of 31% compared to a January baseline," the paper reported. "That’s only slightly different than the 27% decline in visits during the same week a month earlier — before the severe shutdown — and well short of the decline in visits seen during April. 

"Visits to grocery stores and pharmacies were down about 12% from Dec. 12 through Dec. 18 as compared to a January baseline. They were down about the same amount a month earlier, showing little change with the new stay-at-home orders." 

With the coronavirus spiking in California — despite high compliance with social distancing and mandatory mask rules — why are residents going back about their regular lives?

One answer was offered by Zachary Faria, a commentary writer who penned a piece just before Christmas headlined: "Californians are following Newsom's lead and ignoring latest lockdown order."

For background, in November, the Democratic governor and his wife, along with a dozen friends, attended a birthday party at the expensive French Laundry restaurant in Napa north of San Francisco. The governor said the dinner was outdoors, but pictures showed something very different.

"We've obtained photos of Governor Gavin Newsom at the Napa dinner party he's in hot water over," FOX-11 in Los Angeles reported. "The photos call into question just how outdoors the dinner was. A witness who took photos tells us his group was so loud, the sliding doors had to be closed."

"California residents watched as their governor mocked them," Faria wrote, "attending the indoor birthday dinner of a lobbyist friend and then smugly smiling as he 'apologized' for clearly disregarding his own lockdown orders. It's no surprise that Californians have since decided to treat Newsom's latest order the way Newsom has treated them."

Residents of the state were simply doing what their governor did: ignoring the lockdown order to gather with friends and family.

"The inconsistent lockdown rules and Newsom's view that they shouldn't apply to him combined with the holiday season make the stance of Californians clear," Faria wrote. "Newsom's order to prohibit 'private gatherings of any size' was never going to play well before Christmas, but Newsom's own behavior has given residents the green light to ignore the other restrictions he imposed." 

But it wasn't just Newsom who openly disregarded his order. 

A group of state legislators who serve in the California State Legislature — on the very day Newsom announced his new, tighter restrictions — flew off to Hawaii to attend a conference. In fact, their trips, paid for by lobbyists, came just three days after Newsom issued a travel advisory that urged residents not to travel.

While the bipartisan group of lawmakers, who stayed at the elite Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea — where rooms start at more than $500 per night — defended the trip, "observers say it sends the wrong message for legislators to leave the state and gather at a resort when COVID-19 cases are surging, leading to tougher restrictions on the movement of average residents," the Los Angeles Times reported.

"In normal times it is an abuse of office to have oil, utility and other big companies that lobby in the Capitol paying for an Hawaiian getaway replete with golf, hula show and mai tais," Jamie Court, president of the group Consumer Watchdog, told the Times. "In COVID times, it is an abomination that legislators would break quarantine to play in the sun at a four-star resort."

Then there was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat, 80, has long advocated full lockdowns and a national mask policy. Then she was caught dropping into a hair salon in California — ordered closed by the governor — and walking around without a mask.

In security footage first obtained by Fox News, Pelosi was seen walking through the eSalon in San Francisco on Aug. 31. Ironically, during an appearance on MSNBC that same night, Pelosi blasted President Trump for delivering his Republican National Convention acceptance speech before a live audience on the White House South Lawn where many people were not wearing masks.

And then there was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another California Democrat for whom the rules simply don't apply. In September, the 87-year-old was caught not wearing a mask while inside an airport, even though she has called for a mandatory rule to require all airline passengers to wear masks.

Feinstein was spotted without a mask at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, pictures of which Fox News host Tucker Carlson aired on his show. She was seen near a man wearing a face mask as she walked through Signature Flight Support, a terminal that services passengers who are flying on private aircraft.

Shortly before the sighting, Feinstein penned a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration. "I write to urge you to implement a mandatory mask policy for all airport and airline employees and passengers as cases of coronavirus continue to surge," she wrote. "I ask that you issue guidance as soon as possible so passengers can have a clear understanding of the requirements and so that we may reduce exposure for workers and travelers alike."

In the end, as Faria points out, Californians were simply doing what politicians were doing, ignoring what they were saying — following the politicians' actions rather than their words.

"Newsom has only himself to blame for the defiance he is facing, as well as the burgeoning efforts to recall him over his hypocrisy on lockdowns," Faria concluded. "In a state where residents are already struggling with the cost of living and fleeing in droves, Newsom has offered no end in sight. California residents are going to continue to tune him out, and it's impossible to blame them for that."

Much the same thing is occurring in Britain, where Dominic Cummings, a top politician, was caught breaking the rules, then declared: "There is no regulation covering the situation I found myself in."

"If you could find a loophole in the rules, it somehow became acceptable (and defensible) to break them," The Guardian wrote. "The enemy changed from being the virus itself to being the measures designed to curb the virus."

"This shift in tone did not go unnoticed," said the U.K. paper. "The same sacrifices people had willingly made in the spring as part of a collective social responsibility suddenly seemed less necessary. Goodwill turned to anger and upset, largely targeted towards the government that defended Cummings' actions. Trust in the government to handle the pandemic took a sharp downward turn in England, from which it has not recovered since.

"Trust is crucial, as research has shown that it is one of the largest behavioural predictors of compliance during this pandemic: larger than mental health, belief in the health service or numerous other factors. As humans, we need to trust our authorities if we are to follow what they tell us to do."