Column: Newsom may have ‘COVID fatigue,’ but that’s a privilege California can’t afford

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is one politician who has shown poor judgement recently, Erika D. Smith writes.
(Associated Press)

Of the many things that came out of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mouth on Monday, as he rambled through an apology for his now infamous jaunt to the Michelin-starred French Laundry with his wife and some lobbyists, only one thing truly made sense.

“COVID fatigue,” he said, “is exhausting.”

It is. And it’s apparently eating the brains of some prominent California politicians.

There’s Newsom who, in trying to explain why he sat down with “a number of other couples that were outside the household” even though it was “a little larger” than anticipated, failed to mention that they weren’t really sitting outside. Or that no one was wearing a mask. Or that, Dustin Corcoran, the chief executive of the California Medical Assn., was among the group.

“Instead of sitting down,” the governor said, “I should have stood up and walked back to my car and drove back to my house.” He sure should have, especially now that new photos show everyone sitting shoulder to shoulder in a mostly enclosed, private dining area.


Then there’s California’s senior senator, 87-year-old Dianne Feinstein. On Tuesday, she was caught on video talking to people in a corridor at the U.S. Capitol without wearing a mask. Adding to the bad optics, 87-year-old Sen. Charles Grassley announced a few hours later that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The Iowa Republican had been on the Senate floor to vote on Monday.

Pictures appear to show the governor eating with lobbyists at the French Laundry in a room with a roof, three walls and an open wall with glass doors.

Nov. 18, 2020

Then there was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to throw a lavish, indoor banquet for newly elected congressional Democrats. The setup, as a photo making the rounds on Twitter showed, included several tables for guests, who would presumably be situated only a few feet apart.

At first, Pelosi’s office defended the plan, with her deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeting that it adhered to the guidance put out by the Office of Attending Physician at the U.S. Capitol. But that soon changed, “to be a further model for the nation,” Hammill explained in a tweet.

“Members-elect are now picking up their boxed meals and departing the Capitol,” he wrote. “There is no group dinner.”

And, of course, there’s the contingent of California state lawmakers who decided to hop on a flight to Hawaii for the annual Independent Voter Project conference. Among the many topics they’ll discuss? How to safely reopen states amid the pandemic. What probably won’t be discussed is the advisory from state officials, urging people not to travel out of state over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

While Republicans have rightly pounced on the hypocrisy of each of these acts — San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer criticizing Newsom comes to mind — Democrats are far from alone in engaging in egregious behavior. After all, who could forget state Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) addressing a massive religious rally outside the state Capitol without wearing a mask while she was supposed to be in quarantine?

In many ways, a lot of this should come as no surprise. For months now, politicians on both sides of the partisan aisle have been inconsistent in their directives and proclamations on how the public should navigate the pandemic. Leadership has been, at best, uneven.


From the right, it has long been: “Do whatever the hell you want.” And now, increasingly from the left, it’s: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Is it any wonder then that as Thanksgiving approaches and families are making hard choices about whether to travel and whether to gather, we have people making up their own rules as they go along? Or that we find ourselves here, months after the pandemic began in the middle of a third deadly wave of COVID-19?

If ever there was a time for a politician to lead by example, this would be it.

On Monday, California recorded 13,412 new cases of COVID-19, which was a single-day record, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker of public health data. And in the past week, the number of Californians with COVID-19 has jumped 102% from two weeks ago. Masking up is now a requirement, and we’re likely to see more restrictions in our future, especially in Los Angeles.

The reason for this, of course, is that politicians are far from alone in their selfishness.

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in California.

Newsom sat down and stayed at the French Laundry because he wanted to sit down and stay at the French Laundry — just this one time, he insists, and damn the consequences. That makes him a hypocrite, for sure, but he’s not the only one. His actions are very much in line with the millions of Californians who have taken to cheating here and there after months of dutifully following public health orders during the pandemic.

So while it might be fun to bash the governor and other Democrats for their baffling acts of political stupidity — and we should, by all means, hold them accountable — we’ve got bigger things to worry about.

We’ve all got COVID fatigue. We’re all exhausted. But if California has any chance of successfully slowing this growing third wave of COVID-19, we can’t wait on powerful people who should know better to do better.