As a life-long Californian, I sometimes wonder why my beloved home state makes life so difficult.
Forget the sky-high taxes and endless fees. Forget the lawlessness of our cosmopolitan centers and the filth of our largest cities. Forget the zaniness of our State Assembly and Senate proposing a universal health care bill with a price tag of approximately $391 billion dollars a year when the existing budget for the entire state is $286 billion. Forget the massive income inequality in a state run by a single party which ironically spouts the word “equity” every chance it gets. Forget the unaffordable housing, the $5-a-gallon gas, the ten-foot weeds on the side of the freeways, the flushing out of billions of gallons of fresh water into the ocean in the midst of a drought and the tens of billions of dollars spent on a high-speed rail system that will possibly never have a passenger.
Forget all of that. I understand we Californians want to make sure everyone has quality health care. We want to protect fish and the poor and lead the world in a green energy revolution. I’m proud of our heart.
I might not agree with all of it, of course. But at least I get it.
However, as we sojourn through the final chapter of COVID-19 in California, my home state has gone from progressive and hopeful to utterly clueless and hysterical. There is no defending the state and the targeting of children to justify prolonging the crisis. Indeed, there seems to be a fatal habit in the governing apparatus of California that is more interested in performative extremism than it is in sound public policy.
First, no other state has followed California’s lead in mandating vaccines for 5-11 year-old-children in order to participate in traditional classroom learning. Despite the fact the risk posed to young children by COVID-19 is infinitesimally small, despite the fact the vaccine utilizes new technology and thus might make even pro-vaccine parents (like myself) hesitant, and despite the fact such a draconian policy would banish children from their schools and friends, California has decided to move ahead with the policy.
In late January, a California state senator, Scott Wiener, proposed Senate Bill 866 that would allow children 12 years old and older to receive the vaccine without any parental permission. California, once again, would be the only state in the country to allow children this young to make their own decisions in regards to the COVID-19 vaccines. It turns out pesky parents sometimes get in the way of heavy-handed statism.
Which brings us to the unending and deep obsession with masks in the Golden State. The school mask mandate policy, to be blunt, has reached a point of being a hollow and theatrical form of public policy somewhere between farce and frenzy. Remember, even last summer when COVID was in retreat and the CDC declared vaccinated teachers could remove their masks, California decided it would prolong the mandate for its educators.
On Monday, the obsession continued. California decided vaccinated adults could take off their masks inside public places (anyone watching the Super Bowl knew this was a fait accompli) but school children, the least vulnerable population at every phase of the pandemic, would receive no such reprieve, at least not until further notice.
Here is what the non-teachers of the world need to understand: the students still socialize, congregate, and interact completely unmasked the moment they leave campus. The older kids mock the masks. They laugh at the utter stupidity of the adults pretending that masks now make a scintilla of difference in “stopping the spread.” Did the states that took off the masks in schools months ago fare catastrophically worse than the stridently masked states? No. For every 100,000 citizens in California the state averaged 22,392 cases. Texas was virtually identical with 22,367 cases and far fewer restrictions.
The evidence that school masking works to prevent community spread is either deeply outdated in the wake of the Omicron variant or widely debunked by mainstream sources. At the same time, the developmental and social costs of prolonged masking for young students are real and pronounced, from students having trouble socializing and speaking to a palpable loss of enthusiasm for classroom engagement and learning.
This extravaganza of endless excess begs the question: if the least vulnerable members of society cannot remove their masks now, then when? What off ramp will we ever take in this state?
Vaccines have been available for almost a year. Cases in California are down 349% from last winter’s peak and hospitalizations are down 53%. The state boasts one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. Rapid tests are once again widely available. Pfizer’s Paxlovid drug will expand its availability broadly in the coming months.
Are we waiting to proudly be the last state in the country to ease the suffering and annoyances of California teachers and students? Teachers are walking out of the profession and walking quickly. NPR reported that in an NEA poll 55% of teachers want to leave the profession sooner than they had originally planned. Ninety percent are feeling “burned out” and disenchanted with the profession itself.
This shameful charade needs to end. It needed to end earlier this week. The Golden State isn’t so golden these days. It’s time to change course.
Jeremy S. Adams is a high school and university political science teacher from Bakersfield, California. He is the author of the recently-released book Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation