A Lapse in Leadership

The message sent by adults not abiding by restrictions and mandates can at times be even more contagious than the virus itself. 

Will Hite, Reporter

While people are confined to the indoor safety of their sofas and armchairs amidst the global pandemic, a hope-filled atmosphere lingers outside: vaccines are being administered slowly but surely, and talks of a “light at the end of the tunnel” are materializing. Yet Californians, and particularly those in the Bay Area, continue to see a stalled reopening that is frustrating to many. After all, moments of lowered COVID case rates have been almost routinely followed by weeklong spikes. The nationwide disarray is causing many Americans to take a closer look at their own community response to the virus to reassure them that the months of hardship through quarantining, mask-wearing, and social distancing have not been in vain.

Harrison Moss, a Petaluma community member, offers his perspective on the local compliance to restrictions.

“People are wearing masks for the most part around here―at least the vast majority of people I see in public are. Some people don’t, but mostly they are at a safe distance,” said Moss. “The mask doesn’t likely prevent a particle from getting to you if it’s in aerosol, but masks do reduce the distance that moisture bound particles travel before dissipating, falling to the ground or becoming inactive.”

That being said, Moss also discusses the topic of the optics of wearing masks, especially amongst the local population that declines to do so:

“Masks are a useful tool, and so is being specific about when they are useful,” Moss said.

Moss’s concerns about the small portion of the population are valid. Aside from the scientific evidence that overwhelmingly points to health and safety benefits from wearing a mask, there is also the concern about a public appearance. The message sent by adults not abiding by restrictions and mandates can at times be even more contagious than the virus itself. 

    Unfortunately, the example set by national and local leaders has been less than reassuring to most. In the past few months alone, politicians like California Governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed have been called out for violating or encroaching upon the stringent standards they have set for their communities. Newsom, found at the popular Napa Valley restaurant “The French Laundry” celebrating a friend’s birthday, apologized for engaging in multiple-household mixing―the same kind he publicly discouraged only weeks earlier. Breed was also chastised for a similar but smaller gathering days later. 

Petaluma resident Eric Scholz voices his opinion on the matter:

“When rulers like Gavin Newsom flout their own rules, two things are apparent. One is that they don’t believe the rules are about safety; two is that they think they are better than us,” Scholz said.

Perhaps there is still the reassuring aspect that all members of the gatherings were masked up. While the optics of the situation and the guidance released do not match up, Newsom and Breed have faulted themselves for a lapse in judgment, but still make it clear through public statements that they stick wholeheartedly by their written guidance. Nevertheless, the “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy does not sit well with the vast majority of the population that have been following the Governor’s guidance religiously.

But, as Moss points out, California politicians are not the only ones setting a bad example. The recent Capitol riots also shed light on another group of public figures disregarding COVID common sense: this time, congressmen, who declined to wear masks while hunkered down inside a small conference room of the Capitol building alongside dozens of other representatives.

“As always, I disagree with both extremes. We should try to get others to see our point of view, or consider taking on theirs, if it appears more rational, but we should not mock or belittle those who see it differently, because then we lose all hope of either party learning anything,” said Moss regarding the political climate he feels fed the incident.

Scholz disagrees with the outcry, however, feeling that the sharp reaction may have been an overstep in the first place:

“The idea of punishing legislators for not wearing masks in some unspecified relation to the Capitol incident is absurd. Again, they don’t believe the [Covid] rules are about safety,” Scholz said.

Above all, Scholz and Moss both feel that the longer Americans have to deal with the virus and its effects, the more often we will see poor decision making and elevated tensions on both sides of the aisle. Even so, the not-so-infrequent missteps of politicians and public figures alike raise the question: Should our leaders be held to a higher standard? For the public, the answer is a resounding yes: elected officials must be leaders in both words and actions.