OPINION (PROJECT 21) – President Ronald Reagan once said, “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” This statement has never applied more aptly than it does to California’s current Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom.
Not a week goes by that Mr. Newsom is not boasting about how effective his policies were in addressing the COVID-19 crisis. He loves to compare California’s response to that of Republican-run states, claiming that he had greater success fighting the virus while protecting his constituents. His favorite target appears to be the state of Florida, which is run by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely 2024 presidential candidate.
There is one small problem with his grandstanding, though. It is all based on lies.
A study from the Paragon Health Institute sheds light on an important question: Which approach to managing the pandemic was more effective, an open approach or a more restrictive approach? The results of the study are clear: Florida’s more open approach yielded approximately identical health outcomes as California’s more draconian measures while causing far less societal, educational and economic disruption.
The study explains that Florida had a low COVID-19 Government Response Index score because it relaxed lockdowns quickly, while California had a high score due to strict and prolonged lockdowns. But the states had similar health outcomes despite the different approaches. California suffered worse economic and education outcomes and had higher out-migration, while Florida had significant in-migration due to its commitment to keeping schools open during the pandemic.
It is estimated that due to school shutdowns, the average student and state will suffer a 5.6% and 1.9% lower gross domestic product, respectively, each year for the remainder of the 21st century due to learning losses, as documented by declining math and reading test scores. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that virtual or combined instruction resulted in a decrease in physical activity and mental or emotional health among students, particularly in districts with larger populations of Black students.
Public health policymakers in states such as California, however, failed to consider these massive costs to children’s education when implementing school lockdowns. These failures exacerbated the achievement gap for Black and Hispanic students.
Among California fourth graders, in 2022, “Black students had an average [reading] score that was 37 points lower than that for white students,” and “Hispanic students had an average score that was 29 points lower” than White students’ reading scores. In California, only 7% of Black students and 11% of Hispanic students scored at or above the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ “proficient” level for eighth grade math in 2022.
The economic effects of draconian lockdown policies were drastic and far-reaching. According to one study, the economic costs of business shutdowns in the United States alone were estimated to be around $7 trillion annually. This economic burden was disproportionately shouldered by people of color.
In February 2020, there were 1 million Black-owned businesses in operation around the United States, according to a report from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
About six weeks later, after the onset of government-mandated COVID-related shutdowns, the number of active Black-owned businesses had dropped by 442,000. Many of them shut down permanently. Most of them were in highly restrictive states like California.
During the same time, only 17% of White proprietors had to shut down their businesses, UC Santa Cruz research shows.
Pandemic lockdowns also gave rise to a host of social issues, such as loneliness and disconnection, which had a detrimental impact on mental and physical health, particularly among older adults.
The study goes on to point out that Florida and California show similar health outcome scores, indicating that California’s strict lockdowns did not provide significant health benefits.
This study illustrates not only the importance of considering both health and economic outcomes when deciding how to manage a pandemic but also the significance of allowing citizens to make their own decisions about how to respond to it. People seek freedom to make decisions, evident by people moving to Florida, which continued during the pandemic. They prefer to have the autonomy to choose, hence the migration.
The findings of the Paragon Health Institute study demonstrate the importance of balancing health and economic concerns when responding to a pandemic. It’s clear that Florida’s more open approach to the pandemic resulted in far fewer societal, economic and educational disruptions than California’s more restrictive approach while yielding approximately identical health outcomes.
As Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, said, “It is hard to think of any other issue on which so many people are so wrong so much of the time.”
In California, Mr. Newsom was chief among those who were clearly wrong in this case.
Project 21 member Craig DeLuz is the founder of the Uncommon Sense Media Group. He has almost 30 years in media, political advocacy, policy analysis and grassroots activism. This first appeared in The Washington Times.