Think back to late December. Christmas was approaching and the news in California was getting grimmer by the day. California had one of the highest COVID case rates of any state. Just a month earlier, Governor Newsom locked down the state yet again. Hospitals were packed and there was a shortage of body bags. There were fears of the UK variant extending this COVID surge. It was difficult to find hope in those bleak moments.
But this Wednesday, we heard some news that we could have only dreamed of months earlier: we now have the lowest COVID case rate in the continental US, and the lowest case rate this state has seen since May of last year.
Having seemingly overcome what we hope will be the final COVID wave, we must now turn our attention to those who continue to feel the impact of this pandemic and policies enacted through it: our unemployed Californians and our students.
California’s 8.3 percent unemployment rate for March is tied for the third worst unemployment rate of any state, behind Hawaii and New York. Meanwhile, many states have low unemployment rates around 3 to 4 percent, largely due to their less aggressive restrictions toward the pandemic.
While this looks like an improvement from February’s 8.5 percent unemployment rate, CalMatters noted that a significant reason for a drop in the rate was the fact that nearly 40,000 Californians decided not to look for work in March. A net total of 265,700 Californians have left the labor force in the past year.
Perhaps the only thing less open than our economy are our schools. California continues to be in near last place in reopening schools, according to data service Burbio. Even with this week’s news, Gov. Newsom has yet to stand up to unions and fully reopen schools. Worse, he will not commit to doing so even by fall, leaving California students and families to wonder if a third school year will be threatened.
The Governor is in a perfect position to reopen all of California right now, and his refusal to do so cannot reasonably be justified. From our winter peak, California’s COVID test positivity rate has fallen from 17.9 percent to 1.7 percent, an all-time low. Our infection rate has mostly remained below 1.0 since January and is still declining, signaling a less likely chance of another COVID wave in California.
The data shows the likelihood of another wave is low and that the COVID variants that we have been worried about have not changed California’s trajectory. More and more people are getting a COVID-19 vaccine, and most of the vulnerable population – including the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions – are fully vaccinated.
We must always thank our hospital workers, doctors, nurses, and vaccine volunteers for their extraordinary and difficult service for aiding California through this difficult time. There’s finally a light at the end of this dark tunnel, and we can begin looking forward to summer weddings, wonderful vacations, and jovial gatherings with friends and family.
California is recovering from the virus. Let’s make sure we also recover from its policies.
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Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.