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Editorial: Gavin Newsom should have known better. And he’s not the only one

Gov. Gavin Newsom dined at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., with his wife and six other couples on Nov. 6.
(Associated Press)

As the country descends into the worst phase yet of the COVID-19 pandemic, elected officials are tightening limits on personal activity and sternly chastising people to make smart decisions during Thanksgiving to keep others and themselves safe. But why should anyone listen if they don’t follow their own advice?

President Trump is of course the worst exemplar for pandemic safety. From the beginning, he has scoffed at sensible recommendations to wear a face covering and keep a safe distance from others. And, no surprise, he contracted COVID-19. At this point, no one expects Trump to be a model of anything other than a sore loser (and at this, he’s doing a tremendous job), but at least he’s not been a hypocrite.

We’re more disturbed by people who are preaching one thing and practicing another. They should know better.

Take California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom, for just one notable example. Newsom has consistently heeded guidance from public health officials and researchers to create necessary, if unpopular, rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the state. Among them is the prohibition on people from more than three households gathering privately for dinner, parties or other events. Yet earlier this month, Newsom and his wife dined unmasked and shoulder to shoulder with 10 other people in a private semi-enclosed outdoor room at a high-end restaurant in Napa Valley to celebrate the 50th birthday of a lobbyist friend. It may not have been prohibited at the time in Napa Valley, but it sure looked bad for the governor (not to mention the two California Medical Assn. executives in attendance). Newsom apologized after his indiscretion became public. Even so, it may be hard for him to make up the lost moral high ground when he next preaches personal responsibility.

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Then there are the California legislators who traveled to Hawaii this week to hobnob with dozens of lawmakers from Texas and Washington state and industry lobbyists as part of an annual junket. The travel may be allowable under state guidelines, but it’s extremely bad timing. The week before, California issued guidance asking the public not to travel and to quarantine if they do. Among the handful whose attendance has been confirmed are Democrats, Republicans and an independent — which just goes to show you that pandemic hypocrisy is bipartisan. How many others attended we don’t know. What we do know it that it’s a bad look to be convention-going in the tropics while the rest of us are planning significantly less festive Thanksgiving meals on chilly patios.

And finally we have the sorry spectacle of U.S. senators squabbling like entitled children about wearing masks while in the Senate chamber. The debate began Tuesday when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who was presiding, to “please wear a mask” for the sake of the staffers working around him. Sullivan replied, “I don’t need your instruction.”

Wrong answer. The proper response, and one befitting a member of this supposed civilized body of senior lawmakers, would have been to apologize for making a colleague uncomfortable and put on the damn mask, even if it might seem like overkill. It would have cost so little to make this small gesture and could have sent a strong message that Americans need to respect one another’s boundaries during this national health crisis.

In this case, it wasn’t an unreasonable request. There is no question that COVID-19 spreads well indoors, particularly when people are speaking forcefully. The Democratic-controlled House requires masks during floor sessions, but it’s voluntary in the Republican-run Senate. Honestly, you’d think that people who’ve had a front row seat to hours of testimony from the nation’s top infectious disease experts would have grasped the basic concepts of COVID-19 transmission by now.

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But no. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took to Twitter later to call Brown a “complete ass” and accuse him of virtue-signaling for wearing a mask when far away from other members. That’s one way to look at it. Another is that Brown was showing appropriate concern for the well-being of himself and others, including the stenographers and other staffers who hover around senators in the chamber. Indeed, later that day Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) announced he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Though Grassley urged Americans to “do their part” and wear a mask in public just the day before, he has not done so himself when on the Senate floor. So who’s the “complete ass” now, Sen. Cruz?

The public deserves more from the people whom they have entrusted with the power to preserve public safety. If Americans continue to ignore pandemic safeguards such as wearing masks and not getting together with friends, then elected officials are at least partially to blame. They can’t model bad behavior and then expect better from the rest of us.


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