Mixed Messaging by Public Officials Cloud COVID Return to Normal


Mixed messaging by elected officials and government health experts have continued to cloud efforts to finally “turn the corner” on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until now, Californians were supposed to wear masks in their offices when around colleagues, in grocery stores and restaurants except when eating, and at theaters.

Yet, tens of thousands of people attending a baseball or football game don’t have to mask up, except for limited circumstances such as when ordering food at a counter.

Gov. Gavin Newsom garnered negative headlines when caught on film maskless at the NFC Championship game at Sofi Stadium.  He said he was “very judicious” in his actions at the game.  Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti bizarrely stated that he “held his breath” while posing for photos maskless with Magic Johnson at the same game.

Naturally, we’re all confused by this.  Common sense naturally dictates the question – why do we have to wear masks in one instance, but not the other?  We don’t really get answers to these questions from our political leaders or government health experts.

Californians aren’t upset by Newsom and Garcetti not wearing masks.  They’re wondering why government hasn’t figured it out yet, implementing straightforward mask rules that make sense, everyone can follow, and don’t defy logic.

Perhaps responding to his public stadium embarrassment or acknowledging the reality of bad polling for Democrats in recent weeks, Newsom announced this week that the statewide mask mandate would expire on Feb. 15.

New mask rules for students at school, a source of considerable controversy and anger by many parents, are also expected to be rolled out next week in California.

New York’s Democratic governor announced this week she would follow suit in lifting the mask mandate for businesses.  New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who just survived a major scare in his re-election campaign, announced the mask mandate would soon be ending at schools.

But in the latest example of mixed messaging, federal health officials and the Biden administration are arguing the opposite of their fellow Democrats.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in an interview this week that, “right now our CDC guidance has not changed . . . we continue to endorse universal masking in schools.”

Continuing, she said that “we have and continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission – that is essentially everywhere in the country in public indoor settings.”

Politico reported that, “the sudden string of decisions by Democrat-led states to begin relaxing mask mandates and other restrictions has prompted a scramble within the (Biden) administration to decide how to respond.”

“Though Biden health officials have been encouraged by the plummeting case rates, some are still fearful that dropping precautions too soon could backfire if another dangerous variant suddenly emerges — further damaging the nation’s morale and Biden’s political fortunes,” the report concluded.

And when Americans see their governor offer one set of rules, and federal officials in Washington offering another, they’re naturally wondering – who is right?  What guidance should they follow?

Just when it seemed like Californians and residents in other states were getting some clarity and unified messaging on when and whether to wear masks, mixed signals from the federal government are not helpful in the effort to get Americans to follow its public health guidance on COVID-19.

The longer government at all levels offer mixed messaging on whether and when to wear masks, the longer it will be before we finally turn the corner on the pandemic.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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