California is Showing the Way with Minimal Federal Assistance

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

We are hearing a lot about “modeling” —something leading epidemiology experts use to explain the ever-changing scenarios in the novel coronavirus’s up-and-down curves. 

The fact is no one really knows when we can expect a dramatic downturn in either the infections or the death rates. The dangers are escalating regardless of what the graphs are telling us. 

California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to take decisive action early and it may be paying off. California’s confirmed infection numbers are a staggering 9,000 as of this writing and according to the governor had “quadrupled in just three days.” 

Quick action though by closing schools, parks, beaches and other public places may be slowing the rampage. His “stay-at-home” order preceded many states and strict social distancing seems to be working. 

At the same time the governor is raising his profile following in the steps of New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he begins to do prime time briefings the major networks are carrying. 

Both leaders are conveying a sense of urgency while the president often seems to be treating an apocryphal moment as just another day in the office. 

Newsom is not sending signals that he may want to jump into the 2020 race but what he says and does can influence public opinion. 

His candid and unflinching assessments are in sharp contrast to the denials of any responsibility and continuous China blame- pointing coming from the presidential podium. 

Newsom has been careful to moderate his criticism of federal lack of action. But it is clear that governors across the nation from both red and blue states have joined in his appeal for more and faster help from Washington. 

In his recent CNN interview Newsom was blunt: “What more evidence do you need? What are we waiting for? We need to take responsibility now. There is no greater preventative than physical distancing to get society back to some semblance of normalcy. Full Stop.” 

Statistical models are important but they might have been more helpful had Trump had taken them seriously before the pandemic engulfed the entire nation. 

We must now await the judgement of history to know how accurate these hypothetical models may have been.  By then it will be too late, right or wrong. 

Mayors and governors of heavily populated states do not have the luxury of awaiting history’s verdict as they run out of ventilators, protective masks, hospital beds and all the other PPEs that can spell the difference between life and death. 

Vice President Pence on CNN just declared with total seriousness, “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the crisis.”  That’s the same president who said on February 28th, “The 15 (cases) within a couple of days is going to be down to zero.” 

Nearly 6,000 Americans have since died and many more will. 

“Think of it as the flu,” Trump opined just weeks ago. The models he ignored said otherwise. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been urging the unresponsive president to fully open the nation’s stockpile and to mobilize the Pentagon’s vast resources. That entails invoking his full powers under the Defense Production Act. This should be a no-brainer. 

It would speed equipment to the front-line physicians, nurses, and other hospital personnel in desperate need who are the ultimate line of defense. 

Why Trump has not chosen to do so is a mystery. 

Newsom, who’s knowledge of facts is legendary while his management skills face the stiffest test yet has gone out of the way to be ingratiating: “I’d be lying if I said he (Trump) was not answering our needs,” proclaimed Newsom. 

In a “war” as Trump has accurately labelled it, tough offense is not an option.  We have been playing defense ever since the crisis debuted in the U.S. on January 19th when a 35-year old Washington man was found to have caught the virus. 

Sensing that the public craves the brutal truth Newsom declared, “We are not out of the woods but we are buying time in advance of the surge.” 

California’s numbers are bound to rise perhaps exponentially. Still, they represent only a small percentage compared to the many thousands more casualties New York is experiencing. 

The stay-at-home directive is no doubt saving lives and California offers ample proof that family-enforced self-isolation along with more testing could lead to quicker recovery.

The latest corona virus task force model suggests Trump and his top advisers will be satisfied if we can “hold the death total down to 100,000-240,000.”  And that’s if everything “works perfectly.” 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Trump’s highly trusted medical adviser says, “this virus is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.” 

Trump insists that had he done nothing the infections could already “have been as high as “1 to 2.4 million” had he not closed the borders to China immediately for which he is demanding gratitude.

Apparently he did not hear the ominous prediction by Dr. Deborah Birx, his COVID-19 task force coordinator who said without blinking, we “could see a mortality rate as high as Italy’s.” 

Italy until recently held the record for the world’s highest number of infections and many may not have been reported. 

The U.S. with the most advanced medical and scientific capability in the world now holds that distinction! 

Newsom is determined to see that California does not gain the same distinction. 

Phase 1 of the clinical trials which could lead to development of a reliable vaccine will not even start until September and under the most optimistic scenarios they might not be started at the earliest until middle or late 2021. 

For now the most optimistic models offer little comfort when held up against the on-the-ground realities which California is facing if it fails to “flatten the curve” at warp speed. 

We are seeing a growing narrative that the abysmal lack of federal preparation is pressing Newsom and his 49 counterparts into proxy roles as national leaders.

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