It’s an indirect threat. He doesn’t say anything will definitely happen, rather that Californians won’t need to “worry” about in-class instruction and closing small businesses again if more people get vaccinated.
And if they don’t, then…?
My memory’s starting to fail in old age but I could have sworn that the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidance within the past two weeks that schools must reopen this fall. No matter how bad the pandemic gets, depriving kids of any more classroom time is too dangerous to their development. Make ’em mask up, spread out, open the windows, do whatever you’ve gotta do. But keep them in class. Evidently Newsom didn’t get the memo.
This is your official notice, Californians: Abandon ship.
Coincidentally, I was looking this morning at Burbio’s “average in-person index,” tracking which states were best and worst at getting kids back into classrooms over the past school year. Care to guess which state was rock bottom?
The science says that kids are at low risk of infection and at minuscule risk of serious illness. Red states have been following that science for many months. The CDC and AAP doubled down on it this month for the benefit of more risk-averse blue states. Yet here’s Newsom innocently wondering whether opening up classrooms is on the menu if vaccination rates don’t improve.
Is he not “following the science” anymore?
And what sort of vaccination rate would convince him that it’s safe to proceed with in-class instruction? California is 12th among the 50 states in terms of the share of its population that’s received at least one dose. Is 70 percent the magic number? (They’re at 63 percent now.) Or is there no actual benchmark, just a vacuous sense of “it’s not safe” dread?
There is a bona fide Delta surge in California right now. Hospitalizations have doubled over the past month. But even now, they’re lower than they were at any point during the first 13 months of the pandemic:
Head for the lifeboats, California parents. The Delta surge will only get worse over the next few months. If the governor’s chattering about closures already, it’s a cinch that schools won’t be durably open this fall.
Unless, I guess, he loses the recall election in mid-September to a Republican, which would make things interesting. But the odds of that can’t be much higher than the odds that the upward swing in cases and deaths lately won’t get worse over the next month.
The hottest debate among the chatterati this week is how to get unvaccinated holdouts to finally come around on getting their shots. Some writers have scolded those who mock or berate the unvaxxed, claiming that it’s counterproductive and that a little kindness and patience will go a longer way. That’s true in the abstract but in reality it’s goofy to think that people who have absorbed six months of public commentary about the vaccines and still haven’t been convinced to get their shots are waiting for just the right argument in just the right tone to finally bring them around. Realistically, the only people capable of persuading the unvaccinated at this point are their own doctors or family members. (Or abject fear of the Delta variant.) The debate should be about what official action can be taken to incentivize them. Vaccine passports? Employer mandates? How about the FDA finally fully approving the vaccines? David Leonhardt makes the case for speeding that process up despite the FDA’s emphasis on “caution,” knowing full well what vaccine skeptics will say:
Think of it this way: In the highly unlikely event that the evidence were to change radically — if, say, the vaccines began causing serious side effects about 18 months after people had received a shot — Americans would not react by feeling confident in the F.D.A. and grateful for its [current] caution [in granting full approval]. They would be outraged that Woodcock and other top officials had urged people to get vaccinated.
The combination means that the F.D.A.’s lack of formal approval has few benefits and large costs: The agency has neither protected its reputation for extreme caution nor maximized the number of Americans who have been protected from Covid. “In my mind, it’s the No. 1 issue in American public health,” Topol told me. “If we got F.D.A. approval, we could get another 20 million vaccinated,” he estimated.
If the FDA speeds up the approval process, anti-vaxxers will shift from crying that the vaccines are “experimental” because they haven’t been approved to crying that the approval was “rushed” and “political” and therefore can’t be trusted. Which would be inane, as the agency already has safety and efficacy data from a real-world trial involving 160 million people; rarely (never?) has there been an “experiment” this big or successful. But you can understand why the FDA, which is eyeing September for full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine, might want to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s in its review so as to deny anti-vaxxers their talking point.
But meanwhile, thousands more Americans will die. Depending upon how bad the Delta surge is, we could see tens of thousands of deaths next month. Will the FDA save more lives by being deliberate and delaying full approval to try to outmaneuver an anti-vax argument or will they save more by rushing the approval now and letting the anti-vaxxers screech away? Many people who are vaccine hesitant will come around once full approval is granted no matter what disinformation to the contrary is being pushed. And some who still won’t come around will be forced to get the shot anyway once full approval is granted since that will make it easier for employers to require it.
That should be Newsom’s strategy in California instead of school closures. Keeping children out of class won’t meaningfully prevent the spread of the virus. Only one thing will. So, once the vaccines are fully approved, he should do what he can to mandate it among his state’s public employees and to encourage private businesses to follow suit. Don’t punish kids for adults’ mistakes.