It just might turn out that the Delta variant of the coronavirus becomes the best thing that’s happened to California Gov. Gavin Newsom in quite a while.
At the very moment mail-in ballots for the Sept. 14 recall election went out, new figures showed Newsom’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been far superior to what’s been done by his counterparts in Texas and Florida, Republicans Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis.
Months ago, pre-Delta, it was already plain California handled the plague better than the other big Sun Belt states to which it is often compared.
But here are numbers, as of mid-August: Texas, with 63.6% as many people as California, had 80% as many cases since the pandemic began. That’s a 17-point differential in California’s favor.
The contrast with Florida is as dramatic: The Sunshine state, with 53% as many people, had 70% as many cases, also a 17-point differential.
Those numbers translate to human lives. California has had 1,637 COVID-19 deaths for every 100,000 residents, Texas 1,881 and Florida 1,890.
Of the three, then, California has been by far the healthiest place to live over the last 18 months and Florida the least.
So why does Newsom face a recall, while Abbott and DeSantis sit pretty despite their states’ dismal numbers? Florida and Texas do not allow recalls of state officials.
Why has California been more effective at handling COVID-19 and its variants? Newsom shut down most of this state’s businesses before any other governor acted similarly, while DeSantis and Abbott left things open far longer and reopened sooner.
California has had tougher and more universal masking rules, too, especially since Abbott and DeSantis canceled requirements imposed by some of their states’ largest counties. Plus, Newsom put far more emphasis than his colleagues on getting vaccines into arms.
For a while, especially during this state’s winter surge in cases, it appeared the others might be right. But things are working out much better in California.
This could have political importance elsewhere, too, with Abbott and DeSantis up for reelection next year, and now seeing their poll numbers dip almost daily as the Delta variant takes its toll.
Not so long ago, Newsom’s handling of the pandemic seemed like an impediment in the recall. Things may be different now.
For one thing, California fatalities are down enormously even with raw case numbers up from June and July. On some days during the last two months, the official state death toll has been as low as two, three or six persons. On Aug. 16, it was 11. On Aug. 17, it was seven. The numbers in Florida and Texas are higher, despite their smaller populations.
Yes, the average Floridian is slightly older, but vaccination has made that factor almost negligible; over-65s are far more likely to be vaccinated than younger people.
By mid-August, 74% of all Californians has received at least one vaccine shot, compated to 54.6% in Texas and 61.2% in Florida. The California advantage is even more striking than the raw percentage because of Florida’s higher average age.
All this debunks the claim made all year that Newsom is incompetent next to DeSantis and the recently COVID-positive Abbott.
That can’t end the stigma of hypocrisy from Newsom’s notorious French Laundry incident, where he flouted his own regulations of the moment.
But the most recent numbers take much of the wind out of recall backers’ claim that Newsom is not up to his job.
The bottom line here is that COVID-19 death rates were always higher in Florida and Texas than California, but the difference has lately increased.
Newsom is often blasted for countenancing school closures longer than absolutely necessary, while DeSantis brags that Florida public schools never shut down.
But thousands more lives were saved here than would have been under the Florida and Texas rules, which consistently allowed proportionately more deaths.
It all means California’s anti-virus performance might be Newsom’s best argument against the recall. It’s a warning, too, that replacing him with an anti-masking, anti-vaccination mandate figure like talk show host Larry Elder could quickly put this state right down there with Florida and Texas.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].