Gov. Gavin Newsom says California’s COVID-19 state of emergency will end on Feb. 28, just four days shy of three years since he issued the first of countless orders he said were necessary to cope with the pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been guided by the science and data – moving quickly and strategically to save lives,” Newsom said in October announcing the February end date. “The state of emergency was an effective and necessary tool that we utilized to protect our state, and we wouldn’t have gotten to this point without it.”
The efficacy of Newsom’s pandemic orders will be debated for years, particularly the shutdowns of schools and businesses and the billions of dollars in no-bid contracts his administration issued.
What cannot be debated, however, is that their impacts on millions of Californians will linger for years, decades or perhaps even generations.
Nearly 3 million Californians lost their jobs due to the shutdown orders. While the state has, on paper, recovered all of the jobs it lost, countless small businesses that shut their doors have not reopened.
With work-at-home the growing norm, restaurants and other businesses dependent on concentrated employment were clobbered. The downtowns of the state’s larger cities – including the state capital, Sacramento – were hollowed out and have not, in the main, recovered.
California’s stark divide between haves and have-nots grew wider. Upper-income Californians could do their jobs from home but lower-income service workers simply lost their jobs. Some qualified for unemployment insurance, but a managerial meltdown at the state Employment Development Department delayed, sometimes for months, benefits for legitimate claimants while EDD handed out billions of dollars to fraudsters.
School shutdowns, and the fitful efforts to continue instruction via the internet, had a devastating effect on students, especially those from poor families which lacked technology and whose parents could not work from home. The “achievement gap” that has long plagued California’s public school system widened even further, recent research has found.
Several new studies add even more evidence that the steps taken by the state to combat COVID-19 will have long-term negative impacts.
An analysis by The Associated Press, Stanford University’s Big Local News project and Stanford education professor Thomas Dee determined that 234,000 students in 21 states vanished from public school enrollment rolls during the pandemic. More than half of them were in California.
Overall, in those states, enrollment dropped by about 700,000 students, but most of the decline could be explained by enrollments in private schools, movements to other states or shifts to at-home instruction. Of the remaining 234,000 absences for which there was no explanation, researchers said, 152,000 were in California.
The Public Policy Institute of California crunched the numbers and discovered that not only did COVID-19 kill about 100,000 Californians but that the state’s life expectancy, which had been tied for the nation’s highest with Hawaii at 80.9 years, has dropped by two years – the first such decline since World War II.
PPIC found that the higher death rate has disproportionately affected non-white Californians, particularly Latino and Black residents. “Between 2019 and 2021, the death rate (deaths per 1,000 residents) increased 51% among Latinos, 31% among Blacks, 26% among Asian-Americans, and 17% among whites,” the PPIC reported.
Finally, a new study UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, affecting businesses, child care centers and school, created financial hardships that led to psychological distress and a sharp increase in turmoil and conflict, including domestic violence.
Some COVID-19 victims are experiencing long COVID, with lasting debilitative effects. California suffers from lingering effects as well.
Dan Walters is a CalMatters columnist.
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