California Governor Gavin Newsom was heckled at a live news conference on Wednesday as he sought to explain the state’s evolving response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“RE-call NEW-som! RE-call NEW-som!” was heard over and over as the governor announced a new vaccination site in the hard-hit Central Valley. It was the latest in a parade of events he has held this week to celebrate the openings of larger sites across the state, including two at ballparks in Oakland and San Diego.
Later in the day, however, it was revealed that the state’s largest venue would be shutting down due to a lack of vaccine. It was emblematic of the duality present in California’s current response to the pandemic.
On the one hand, infections are down and the governor and other officials have loosened restrictions on retail and restaurants. As of Wednesday, one-tenth of the state’s population had been vaccinated. At least three vaccination super sites have been inaugurated recently with the governor leading the fanfare. CVS and Walgreens stores will begin inoculating Californians. But those seeming positives may have a downside.
On Friday the state’s largest vaccination site, at Dodger Stadium will close along with four other city-run sites. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said late Wednesday that the site had run out of vaccine because the city’s allocation dropped more than 80% week-over-week.
“This week we only received 16,000 new doses. That’s about the number of new doses we give out every single day,” he said. “That is down 90,000 from the week before. That is unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, according to the Fresno Bee, Fresno County’s allocation was doubled to 19,000 doses this week. Last week, the county got 8,000.
“In a briefing from our county partners this morning,” said the mayor on Wednesday, “we learned that other cities with smaller populations are receiving more doses than our entire county with a larger population. When we look to places that have lower cases, we see 50% more doses going to other cities. I don’t want to take a single dose away from them, but it’s only fair that Los Angeles gets a steady supply to meet the moment of our need.”
“I’m not here to point fingers,” continued Garcetti. “As always, I’m here to be a partner. But I want to be clear: Los Angeles needs more doses.” The mayor promised to “fight” for more vaccine.
Asked more specifically if the increasing prevalence of vaccination sites may have contributed to the dropoff in supply Garcetti observed, “It is a little bit of Hunger Games out there. We’re doing kind of an ‘all the above approach.’ I think part of this is we’ve gone to so many places without the supply matching that, that you’ve seen some of the core places…like ours and the county mega sites not have as much supply.”
When Newsom was questioned about whether the new Fresno site would cannibalize vaccine from other sites in the area he replied, “Everything’s dynamic. It depends upon what the State of California gets. Again, the state doesn’t have doses of vaccines. the federal government distributes those vaccines through their networks.”
It’s a response the governor has given again and again, insisting that the state is not the middle man and that distribution happens directly from the federal government to providers, as with the seasonal flu vaccine. But what Gacetti is pointing out is that the state’s push to rapidly expand vaccination sites is drying up a pool of vaccines that are already in short supply.
Newsom pointed out that the allocations to CVS and Walgreens would be “additive,” meaning on top of, the current supply. But the doses at places like the new Fresno clinic, which is expected to deliver 400-plus vaccinations a day at launch, will come out of existing — in some places non-existant — supply.
“I think that everybody wants to come in and save the day and I admire that. That means I’m working with partners who have the same motivation as me,” noted Garcetti. “But it would be good for somebody to kind of take that 50,000-foot view, look at the metrics of the places like our sites that are knocking it out of the park, that have efficient centers, where they’re well staffed up, where we get 98% of the doses out, where we have mobile clinics alongside that…[and] reward us. Reward those places that are working before we build more architecture for doses that don’t exist.”
President Biden did announce an agreement to buy 200 more doses of vaccine on Thursday. That will eventually go a long way toward matching supply to demand. In the short term, however, a delivery infrastructure is being built, portions of the population are being told to get vaccinated and there aren’t enough doses to go around. Those sort of dashed expectations are becoming a regular feature of the Covid-19 response in the Golden State.
On Thursday it was revealed that state figures on vaccinations are wildly off.
Per the Sacramento Bee:
In a Friday interview with The Sacramento Bee, California State Association of Counties executive director Graham Knaus said counties in his organization have found the state data is missing hundreds of thousands of administered doses. At the hearing, [Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Aimee] Sisson said other Sacramento-area counties are seeing similar errors. Los Angeles County’s top science official Dr. Paul Simon said it’s happening in his county, too.
That’s an issue because an undercount could mean counties that have already vaccinated many are getting much larger shipments of vaccine than they otherwise would.
“Over the past several weeks this has been an incredibly intense focus for us, cleaning up the data, improving the quality, making sure that every dose gets administered,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of California’s Department of Public Health. “Without good data, we’re not going to have visibility on achieving any of our goals.”
The tracking issue brings back memories of the state’s great data SNAFU of 2020.
Last August California’s top health official Dr. Mark Ghaly held a news conference and admitted that multiple errors on the state’s part had caused a backlog of 250,000-300,000 records in its case data reporting system. That system was used primarily to parse and distribute coronavirus data. At least two weeks worth of data was impacted at a time when officials were still trying to understand the virus’s spread. California’s Director of Public Health resigned shortly thereafter.
Then there was the January loosening of restrictions, which was welcomed by Newsom critics but puzzling to anyone trying to follow the logic of the shutdowns. LA County’s Simon, when asked by Deadline if he understood how the state calculated the ICU thresholds by which regions were kept closed said, “I can’t really comment. I haven’t seen the news. I’m not really sure what considerations were made in that threshold.”
That’s the chief science officer of the state’s largest county saying he didn’t understand the metrics by which his county was being kept closed. if he didn’t understand it, how were non-PhDs supposed to?
Simon’s answer came on the heels of a bombshell report from the Associated Press alleging that Newsom’s administration had been keeping secret the data calculations by which it has justified one of the country’s longest and most stringent lockdowns.
California’s director of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly then repeatedly tried to explain the formula, but the more he spoke, the more byzantine it seemed.
Newsom is the target of an ongoing statewide recall effort, and activists working to put his removal to a vote say that they have garnered 1.4 million of the estimated 1.5 million signatures needed. TV ads targeting Newsom are set to hit this week.
Also on Monday, a new Republican challenger, businessman John Cox, who Newsom beat handily in the last election, declared his intention to challenge the governor in the proposed recall election if it qualifies for the ballot, or says he will run against Newsom if he seeks a second term in 2022. Cox again threw his hat into the ring on Monday with an ad painting himself as an outsider.
“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” he says in the ad. “It’s time for a fresh start.”
Cox joins fellow Republican and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer in the race.
Tech investor, VirginGalactic Chairman and part-owner of the Golden State Warriors Chamath Palihapitiya teased — and later rebuffed — a run at the governorship in January. Palihapitiya has frequently criticized the powerful for maintaining the status quo to preserve their own power. His proposed platform included no taxes, better schools and more pay for teachers.
Wet your beak California. 0% taxes, best paid teachers in the country and a bonanza of climate friendly jobs. https://t.co/gfoPSXziuL pic.twitter.com/3QcqZUfFoI
— Chamath Palihapitiya (@chamath) January 26, 2021
Hiccups in state handling of the Covid-19 response have hurt Newsom’s poll numbers. Likewise his own bad judgment in joining a crowd of friends and lobbyists at The French Laundry shortly before he ordered Covid restrictions for restaurants in the state. That’s become a rallying cry for recall supporters.
And there is also the ongoing cascade of unemployment fraud revelations in the state. As federal money flooded in to help those impacted by the pandemic last fall, about $1 billion was sent to prisoners who fraudulently qualified for assistance. And it wasn’t just prisoners taking advantage of the chaos.
A Jan. 28 state audit estimated the amount of EDD fraud committed in California between March and December 2020 might top $10.4 billion.
And yet Newsom soldiers on. When asked about the recount, he’s said it’s just noise, that he’s focused on his work for the state, even when they’re chanting “RE-call NEW-som!” right outside the gates.
Watch Newsom’s Wednesday news conference below.
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