Mixed messaging continues to be a problem for the Newsom administration in its efforts to get more Californians to get vaccinated.
Right now, roughly 61 percent of Californians are fully vaccinated, complicating efforts to reach its 70 percent plus goal for herd immunity.
The problem is perilous for Newsom on two fronts. California has seen a sharp uptick in cases attributed to the so-called Delta variant in recent weeks. Nearly all of these cases are hitting the unvaccinated, adding to the urgency of increasing the ranks of the state’s fully vaccinated.
But with a recall election looming that is largely attributed to Newsom’s overreaches during the pandemic, he is loath to impose any new restrictive measures.
Newsom’s messaging is crucially important than ever to try and win over the stubborn one-third that has not been convinced to get a double jab. But his administration’s latest snafus are complicating his public relations efforts.
On July 9 came the announcement that, as the Los Angeles Times reported, “California will continue to require masks in school settings . . . even though federal health authorities released new guidelines saying vaccinated students and teachers no longer need to wear masks inside campus buildings.”
But a few days later, the Times reports, “state officials issued a rule barring unmasked students from campuses, and then, hours later, rescinded that rule — while keeping in place a mask mandate for all at K-12 schools.” And then Team Newsom passed the buck and punted the decision on what to do with students who won’t wear masks to local school officials.
It was astonishing that the Governor’s office did not fully vet and sign off on an announcement that its own agency was going to issue. Speaking with several folks around Sacramento, who like me had worked in various gubernatorial administrations, we all agreed that it was an act of political malpractice that the Governor’s office either did not exert more control over this announcement – or his inner circle did sense a problem brewing.
After these the latest snafus, it naturally begs the question – is anyone running the show in the Governor’s office these days? If someone in Newsom’s inner circle had raised a question about the announcement, perhaps they could have thwarted what quickly became a major headache.
Newsom’s hands-off approach is also backfiring with the recent announcement by Los Angeles and Yolo Counties that they are recommending mask wearing indoors even for the vaccinated due to rising incidents of the Delta variant. On top of this comes the news that state lawmakers moved to impose a new mask mandate for staff and visitors at the State Capitol after experiencing a mini Covid outbreak in recent days.
For months, public health officials have touted the vaccine’s benefits, including not having to wear masks or social distance after being vaccinated.
But if the state’s health officials are seemingly not “trusting the science” from the CDC, many reluctant to get a vaccine will naturally conclude that there’s no point to getting one if you still must wear a mask even if you get a vaccine.
Newsom may be able to say, “hey folks, that’s not me” when his agencies and local officials make announcements at odds with his messaging. But hands-off leadership is not going to get everyone on the same page. Rather, it will only fuel more confusion and more mixed messages, which is not what Newsom needs to get more Californians vaccinated or beat back the recall election.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.