Here We Go Again: California Enacts New Statewide Mask Mandate

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

It seems that Santa isn’t happy with California voters.  After failing to recall Newsom in September, California “Health Officials” have issued a new mask mandate, to take effect on Wednesday that will last through the New Year, until January 15th.  However, this move proves Newsom’s lifting of the mandates in June was nothing more than political posturing leading to Newsom’s recall in September.

From NBC News:

Amid rising Covid-19 case numbers and fears that the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus could spark a new wave of infections, the country’s largest state is reimposing its indoor mask mandate, officials announced Monday.

California’s mandate, which resumes Wednesday, will last at least a month, when the state Public Health Department “will make further recommendations as needed,” officials said in a statement.

It applies regardless of vaccination status.

The state health and human services secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said an anticipated wave of gatherings during the year-end holidays — muted by last year’s pandemic restrictions — influenced the decision to bring back the mandate.

The state says that a rise in numbers justifies the reinstatement of the mask mandate, however, provided no numbers to support their claim as to the increase. Additionally, state officials suggest that people wishing to return to a level of normality in celebrating their holidays, after those opportunities were stolen from them last year based upon the fearmongering of government, is another factor. Dr. Mark Ghaly states that it was anticipated, because of normal holiday gatherings, that cases may arise.

Yet, if we take a moment to review the data regarding new cases, it tells a much different story than what California officials are trying to tell. Primarily, the state has allegedly used three factors to determine restrictions: Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths. It appears that the numbers do not support the urgency with which the state implements this new mask mandate; in fact, it shows one of two things.

If we use their own standards to judge this, it either shows that a mandate should have been implemented in August due to a much higher and more significant rise in COVID numbers, but didn’t because of Newsom’s pending recall, or it show that the current implementation of the mask mandate is completely and totally unnecessary.

New California COVID Cases. Credit: Worldometers.info

In examining the first image, it shows that back in August, when a mask mandate was not in effect, cases were exponentially higher than they are now, yet no mandate was ordered.

In examining hospitalizations, the CDC reports that only 63 percent of inpatient beds are occupied in the state currently a level beneath that which occurred during the August spike. Only 11 percent of all beds in the state are occupied by COVID-positive patients. That does not mean they are being treated for COVID-19, simply that they are COVID positive and occupying a hospital bed. Only 64.5 percent of California ICU beds are currently occupied, a number still below that of the August spike. Again, no mask mandate was ordered then.

New California COVID Deaths. Credit: Worldometers.info

Even the Daily New Death Rate is down and still below the August spike in number.

So what would explain the reason for the two different strategies? Simple: Politics.

New California COVID Cases With Key Dates. Credit: Worldometers.info

If you look at the image above, it shows four different points on the caseload timeline. The first is approximately the time in June when the original mandates were lifted by the state. I had thought at the time that Newsom’s actions were related directly to the fact that COVID restrictions were unpopular and that Newsom didn’t want those restrictions hanging over voters during a recall.

The second point is the peak of the rise in COVID cases, which was, by comparison, larger than the first wave of COVID cases from early in the pandemic. The third point is the date of the recall election, September 14th, just a few days after that peak. The fourth point is approximately now when a new mandate has been ordered. Notice that despite the caseload from August being more than twice what it is currently, no mandate was ordered.

I, like many, am tired of pretending this has anything to do with data and science anymore. It is so divorced from anything even approaching either, that you cannot begin to debate the merits of “the science” with which they make the determination. If there is an urgency now, why not an urgency then?  And if there isn’t an urgency then, why an urgency now?  Absent a data-driven answer, there’s only one potential:  It is political.

Newsom clearly knew what new mandates would do to his recall chances, and therefore prohibited action from being taken then. Additionally, as I have covered numerous times previously, data shows that mask mandates do nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19. If they did, the data would show places with mask mandates having a lower case, hospitalization, and death rates. To date, there is no correlation between the two.

Lastly, fearmongering regarding the Omicron variant is completely unfounded. As I have covered several times in the last couple of weeks, the Omicron variant, though statistically more transmissible, is significantly less severe than previous strains. Suggesting that Omicron could overwhelm our hospital resources is a complete overreaction, especially considering the data coming out of South Africa. Specifically, South Africa, the country hardest hit by Omicron, has had an 1,100 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, however only a 9 percent increase in COVID deaths.