LOS ANGELES (CN) — Standing in center field at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium, which is one of the region's largest vaccination hubs, California Governor Gavin Newsom gave his State of the State address Tuesday night, reflecting on the 54,395 Californians lost in the past year to Covid-19.
The address in the near-empty stadium came nearly a year after the Golden State instituted one the nation’s first stay-at-home orders.
Covid-19 played front and center throughout Newsom's somber but optimistic speech, which also touched upon his plan to bolster the economy, distribute more vaccines and get kids back to school.
Struggles over the last year have made the “unthinkable commonplace” said Newsom.
Over the last year, California reported roughly 3.6 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 54,000 deaths.
“That’s almost the same number of empty seats behind me, marking a silent tribute to loved ones who live forever in our memories,” Newsom said.
“Covid was no one’s fault — but it quickly became everyone’s burden,” he added. “Forcing hard-working Californians into impossible choices — go to work and risk infection, or stay home and lose your job. It magnified daily worries about feeding your kids, paying rent, and keeping loved ones safe.”
The brunt of the pandemic in California hit the southern part of the state in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in LA County. Widespread infection tore through the region just several weeks before Newsom’s speech on Tuesday night.
Newsom addressed health inequities in access to health care, vaccine distribution and said the state would need compassion and empathy to “write the next chapter in the California story.” Critics have pointed to a sluggish rollout in vaccine distribution that seemed to miss some of the hardest hit regions in California, where many essential workers, who have worked throughout the pandemic, live.
Nearly 11 million vaccine doses have been administered in California according to Newsom. It’s unclear if those are single doses or full vaccinations, but Newsom did say distribution is going to increase across the state under the Biden administration.
As he spoke, Newsom was pummeled by strong winds from an approaching rainstorm --- not unlike the political storm he currently faces, in the form of a recall effort led by the state’s GOP and a conservative base. Those critics argue California’s health orders during the pandemic went too far and struck too deeply at the state’s economy.
“The state of our state remains determined. I remain determined,” said Newsom. “We won’t change course just because of a few nay-sayers and doom-sayers. So, to the California critics, who are promoting partisan power grabs and outdated prejudices, and rejecting everything that makes California great, we say this: we will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again.”
Recovery will not look like it did before the pandemic, Newsom said.
“When this pandemic ends — and it will end soon — we’re not going back to normal," he said. "Normal was never good enough. Normal accepts inequity."
Newsom took office in January 2019, just in time to oversee California weather one of the state’s worst fire seasons on record before the pandemic struck. Then, the state took a second punch from Mother Nature in 2020 with a record number of acres charred by wildfires --- including the largest blaze in modern California history.
He highlighted how climate change is directly linked to the state's transportation methods and the state's push for an economy linked to more green-facing environmental policies.
Recovery will also have to grapple with the state’s staggering homeless population, which Newsom said will require a $2 billion investment into more housing, mental health programs, and purchasing hotels and motels to into supportive housing.
"Our hopeful vision of our brighter future is the basis for the decisions we make today. We place faith over fear — optimism over pessimism. The power is in our hands," the governor said. "This is our moment — to create the California we all want to live in, to extend the dream of prosperity, equity, and progress to all."
Newsom’s speech was tinged with the monumental difficulties of the last year but wrapped with a hopeful outlook for a post-Covid California
“Since this pandemic started, uncertainty has been the only thing we could be certain of,” Newsom said. “But now, we are providing certainty. Certainty that we are safely vaccinating Californians as quickly as possible. Certainty that we are safely reopening our economy. Certainty that we are safely getting our kids back in classrooms. All of which adds up to a brighter future for our state. Because California won’t come crawling back. We will roar back.”
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