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Essential Politics: California's recall fight will extend into 2022 – Los Angeles Times



This is the July 19, 2021, edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox three times a week.

We now have a semiofficial field of candidates for the second gubernatorial recall election in California history, compiled by state elections officials and soon on its way to ballot designers and printers. Election day is now 57 days away.

But this is more than just the official beginning to a quick campaign deciding the political fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom. It’s the first round of a campaign cycle that will run for 16 months, culminating with the election on Nov. 8, 2022.

It’s also one reason I’ll be writing a new newsletter, California Politics, for The Times beginning in August. More details on that are below, but for now, sign up early here.

We’ve got (at least) 41 candidates

Friday marked the registration deadline for candidates seeking to replace Newsom. The semiofficial tally: 41 hopefuls, an assortment of activists and average Joes dominated by Republicans and less than one-third the size of the field of candidates in 2003 when voters ousted then-Gov. Gray Davis.

As expected, the list is led by a Republican quintet: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; 2018 candidate John Cox; Assemblyman Kevin Kiley; reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner; and former Rep. Doug Ose. Sixteen other GOP candidates will be listed on the ballot along with eight Democrats, two Green Party members, one Libertarian and nine independent candidates listed as having “no party preference.”

A reminder that it will only take a plurality of votes for someone to win on the ballot’s second question if Newsom loses on the first question. In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected with less than 49% of the vote.

State officials released the list of candidates on Saturday night. The only real drama was the absence of L.A. conservative talk show host Larry Elder from the list, who insisted that he completed all the necessary steps to run, and a threatened lawsuit by YouTube entrepreneur Kevin Paffrath to be called “Meet Kevin” on the ballot.

Jenner, meanwhile, begins the official campaign season in Australia where she’s appearing on a reality TV show that she called a prior “work commitment.” Her quest to become governor has been a disappointment to some in the LGBTQ community, as my colleague Julia Wick reported last week.

Newsom’s supporters were undoubtedly relieved not to see any high-profile Democrats on the list. Although the governor’s team fumbled his chance to be listed as a Democrat on the ballot, most voters won’t instantly recognize those who will have the party designation.

One closely watched Democrat, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, issued a clear but curious statement Friday in opposing Newsom’s recall.

“I respect the fact the recall qualified — I also recognize that many people disagree with the Governor and some of his decisions — including me — but California is facing incredible challenges and the Governor deserves a chance to finish the job,” Villaraigosa posted on Twitter.

It’s worth watching how, or if, Newsom chooses to address the implicit message that some Democrats think he could be doing better. The party faithful may not abandon him in September, but the campaign won’t end there.

From 2021 to 2022

Win or lose, it’s hard to see either Newsom or his most prominent recall opponents stepping aside in the campaign to win a full four-year term in 2022. Faulconer, Jenner and Kiley have all made it clear they plan to keep going should they come up short eight weeks from now.

And Newsom has ample resources, with some $50 million in political cash between the committees set up to fight the recall and the one to reelect him in 16 months.

Recall 2003 vs. Recall 2021

The back-to-back elections are one huge difference from the Davis recall of 2003. Schwarzenegger was elected to serve out more than two years left on Davis’ second term before seeking reelection in 2006. This time, the recall will take place less than 10 months before a gubernatorial primary.

On Sunday, I posted a Twitter thread that sought to briefly examine the different political landscape of this recall compared to the historic election held 18 years ago this October. The differences might offer a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Most notable is that Newsom likely will strive to keep the replacement candidates bundled together in the minds of voters as an unserious bunch, running in an unjustified election and unqualified to hold the office.

Davis also tried that strategy but the first-tier candidates of 2003 defied such an easy characterization.

Beyond Schwarzenegger — who already had his eyes on the 2006 race and championed a 2002 ballot measure that drew praise from Democrats and independents — there was Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the second-highest-ranking Democrat; Tom McClintock, a conservative firebrand in the California Legislature for decades; Peter Camejo, a Green Party member whose 2002 gubernatorial run denied Davis a majority-vote win; Peter Ueberroth, fresh off his job as commissioner of Major League Baseball and still with some luster for his leadership of the 1984 L.A. Olympics; and Arianna Huffington, who went on to promote progressive causes through her eponymous website.

Most of this year’s hopefuls don’t arrive with the same kind of bona fides. And they’re challenging a governor whose poll numbers appear to be less than disastrous and an electorate mostly made up of Democrats.

The 2021 candidates also face a media landscape that’s decidedly more fragmented than in 2003, one where a candidate can generate intensity but may struggle, without a lot of cash and party backing, to expand their support to what’s needed to win.

One other big difference: when the votes will be cast. Elections officials will mail every registered voter a ballot for this election beginning in mid-August. 14. By comparison, more than 70% of votes in the 2003 recall were cast on election day. That makes the campaign season even shorter and a better chance for Newsom to control the narrative … provided he makes no major missteps over the next month.

About those tax returns

Largely overlooked over the past few weeks has been the decision by Secretary of State Shirley Weber to require that candidates abide by a 2019 state law requiring disclosure of the past five years of personal income tax returns.

The documents were posted Sunday afternoon without any public notice by Weber’s office. It will take some time to examine how the candidates make their money and account for it.

Many will remember the law was written by Democrats and signed by Newsom in 2019 largely as a poke in the eye of then-President Trump, mandating that he hand over tax returns to win a spot on the state’s 2020 ballot. But a federal judge and the California Supreme Court both struck down that provision, leaving in place only the law’s provision to hold gubernatorial candidates to the same standard.

The question is whether it should apply in the recall, as the statute says tax documents must be submitted for the “primary.” Newsom, who disclosed his 2019 tax returns in May, could have to produce additional documents to comply with the law.

One question briefly buzzing around social media in recent days was whether Weber’s decision led some aspiring recall candidates to change their minds. That was one of the arguments against running made by Marey Carey, the adult film actress who ran in 2003.

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A new California politics newsletter

Beginning next month, we’ll be making some changes to the way you get the latest political news from The Times. Instead of landing in your email inbox on Monday, I’ll be hosting a new analysis of California politics that will serve more as an end-of-the-week roundup of events and issues.

The California Politics newsletter will continue to offer glimpses at what’s happening both on the campaign trail and in the halls of state government in Sacramento. We’ll largely focus on two big topics in the coming weeks: the Newsom recall election and the end of the California Legislature’s yearlong session. From there, it’s on to the high-stakes process of redistricting and then the 2022 statewide elections.

You’ll still be getting the latest from my colleagues David Lauter, Noah Bierman and Laura Blasey in Washington. And we’ll have more information next week, in my final edition of the Essential Politics newsletter from Sacramento.

Get ready. The coming weeks and months are sure to be a wild ride. And be sure to sign up for the California Politics newsletter here.

National lightning round

— A proposal to strengthen IRS enforcement to crack down on tax scofflaws and help fund a nearly $1-trillion bipartisan infrastructure spending bill is officially off the table, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said Sunday.

President Biden said Saturday that the Justice Department intends to appeal a federal judge’s ruling deeming illegal an Obama-era program that has protected hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

— Texas’ Brooks County and the Rio Grande Valley have been popular smuggling routes for decades. Six months into 2021, deaths in the county had already reached 55, up from 34 last year.

— The Delta variant and widespread vaccine hesitancy in red states have stalled progress on Biden’s battle against COVID-19 and threaten the economy’s revival.

— Arizona county election officials have identified fewer than 200 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 3 million ballots cast in last year’s presidential election, undercutting Trump’s claims of a stolen election.

Today’s essential California politics

— As injured patients and consumer rights groups fight for tougher penalties on grossly negligent doctors, California’s powerful physicians’ lobby is working hard behind the scenes to water down any proposed reforms.

— California lawmakers on Thursday approved the first state-funded guaranteed income plan in the U.S., committing $35 million for monthly cash payments to qualifying expectant mothers and young adults.

— California will spend a record amount on homelessness. Here’s where it’s going.

— In a survey conducted by The Times, 12 members of the California Legislature refused to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status. Eleven of the lawmakers are Republicans, comprising almost 40% of all GOP members.

— Rep. Katie Porter raised nearly $4.9 million in the first six months of this year, giving her $12.9 million in cash on hand, a war chest that could potentially help fund a Senate run.

— California’s citizen redistricting commission will ask the state’s Supreme Court to give the panel two extra weeks to draw political maps this fall and winter, saying that a delay from the federal government in providing new census data will otherwise limit public participation in the once-a-decade process.

Stay in touch

Keep up with breaking news on our Politics page. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

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Until next time, send your comments, suggestions and news tips to

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Trump and DeSantis choose politics over science as mask wars roar back to life – CNN



As soon as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rolled back indoor unmasking guidance on Tuesday for a majority of US counties amid surging new coronavirus cases, the ideological conflagration over face coverings roared back to life.
Ex-President Donald Trump, in his latest attempt to damage his successor over a pandemic he himself basically ignored at the end of his own term while pushing his election lies, issued a statement saying, “Don’t surrender to COVID. Don’t go back!” If Trump’s faithful followers accept his advice on ignoring mask guidance again, more of them will likely get sick and die.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, tweeted that a directive by the House’s attending physician that masks now need to be worn again in all interior spaces of the chamber was not “based on science.” Instead, he said, the decision was “conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.”
And in another high-profile clash, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is presiding over his state’s explosion of Covid-19 cases, moved into conflict with President Joe Biden, resisting new CDC recommendations for masking in schools.
The showdown not only augured a new struggle between science and politics — a disconnect that has plagued efforts to beat the worst public health crisis in 100 years. It also unleashed a face-off with extra partisan dimensions since it could preview a possible 2024 presidential election duel between DeSantis and Biden.
The latest GOP attacks were deeply ironic. Had more Republican leaders prioritized public health over politics and urged their voters to get vaccinated, the surge in new cases would likely have been avoided — meaning no reintroduction of measures to stem an again-accelerating pandemic.
Only two months ago, the CDC said vaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks indoors with the pandemic apparently in retreat. But on Tuesday, with the highly transmissible Delta variant raging, the top public health agency said that even vaccinated people in areas of “substantial” and “high” transmission of the coronavirus should mask up. And it said that everyone — staff, kids and visitors — should wear masks in K-12 schools when the summer break ends.
The decision was taken in the context of new data showing that vaccinated people infected with the Delta strain can play a limited role in transmission, even if their chances of getting seriously ill and dying are still very low.
The announcement that masking is back for many Americans came as a devastating blow to morale and could have significant political implications for a White House that made ending the pandemic this year its signature goal.

Waning patience with vaccine holdouts

New tensions over masks are also almost certain to exacerbate the disconnect between the White House, which is urging everyone to get life-saving vaccines, and pro-Trump states, where there is deep resistance to public health precautions even as the virus exacts a disproportionate toll.
It will underscore the self-defeating reality that the people least likely to wear masks are often those most resistant to vaccines — a fact that is driving unnecessary new cases and deaths from the disease and now even restricting the lives of the vaccinated.
Political controversy is likely to ratchet up another notch on Thursday, when Biden is expected to announce that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated or face regular testing regimens.
The sign of a hardening White House line comes amid perceptible societal frustration among vaccinated Americans with those who refuse to get their shots. The most haunting realization after the CDC decision is that America, unlike many other areas of the world, has the means to end its pandemic — a plentiful supply of highly effective vaccines — but won’t fully utilize it.
“We would not be in this situation if we already had, now, the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, told “PBS NewsHour.”
In a statement, Biden told the country he had unwelcome news but that he had promised to always level with citizens over the true state of the pandemic. He did offer reassurance that more mask-wearing and vaccinations would mean the country could forestall a full return to the nightmare of last year.
“Unlike 2020, we have both the scientific knowledge and the tools to prevent the spread of this disease. We are not going back to that,” he insisted.
Biden also said that while masking in schools would be “inconvenient” it would allow kids to be able to learn and spend time with their classmates again.
But DeSantis, who has frequently sought to spin political advantage from the pandemic, styling himself as the scourge of health guidance unpopular with conservatives, including on vaccine passports, quickly contradicted Biden’s advice.
“Governor DeSantis believes that parents know what’s best for their children; therefore, parents in Florida are empowered to make their own choices with regards to masking,” said DeSantis’ spokesperson, Christina Pushaw.
She claimed that data showed Covid-19 was not a serious risk to healthy children but that they were at risk of bacterial infections from masks and from difficulty breathing. The statement contradicts CDC evidence that shows more children have already died from the disease, 517 so far, than even in a bad influenza year. Pushaw also retweeted a Fox News story in which she insisted the new CDC schools guidance “isn’t based in science.”
Covid-19 cases are shooting up in almost every state, but Florida is seeing a stunning revival of the pandemic, accounting for nearly 1 in 4 of the new infections in the nation over the last week. DeSantis is now adopting a strategy that seems almost contradictory as he walks a political knife edge ahead of his reelection race next year: urging vaccines, unlike some other conservatives, but opposing most other kinds of countermeasures toward the disease.
DeSantis is a protege of Trump, though his rising political profile might soon get him crossways with the ex-President, who is mulling another White House run in 2024. In resisting CDC mask recommendations, DeSantis is following in well-trodden footsteps. Trump undermined masking guidelines right from the start in the knowledge that there was political advantage for him among base voters who believed him when he downplayed the pandemic. Most notoriously, Trump ripped off his mask in a self-aggrandizing photo op when returning to the White House after his bout with Covid-19 last year.
While a masking showdown with Biden runs directly against the government’s best health advice, it will likely do the Florida governor no harm as he continues to raise his political profile. A slump into an even deeper pandemic, however, could leave him more vulnerable ahead of his reelection race next year.

A new battle over schools

Across the nation, the new CDC guidance on masking in schools is likely to mean a highly charged start to the new semester that begins within days in some states. In New Jersey, for example, some parents are going to court to try to prevent the state’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, from taking any steps to require masks in class.
“We live in a constitutional democracy. We do not have government by doctors meeting in conference rooms at CDC and issuing press releases,” Bruce Afran, a lawyer for the parents, told CNN’s Victor Blackwell on Tuesday.
But the new political clashes over masking are dismaying doctors on the front lines of the pandemic, who are tired of people resisting health guidance.
“I am so sick of this virus filling my emergency department and those of my colleagues around the country. I am sick of watching sickness, severe illness and death,” Brown University Professor of Emergency Medicine Megan Ranney told CNN’s Jake Tapper. Ranney urged people to accept masking so that the country could get the Delta variant under control.
Another physician, Dr. Jonathan Reiner — a professor of medicine at George Washington University — openly blamed people who are resisting vaccines for the CDC having to issue new guidance on masks.
“The problem is that 80 million American adults have made a choice … not to get the vaccine, and these same people are not masking — and that is the force that is propagating the virus around the country,” Reiner said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

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Politics Briefing: From drought to deluge: Canada flush with vaccine doses – The Globe and Mail




This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

There are now enough COVID-19 vaccine doses in Canada to fully inoculate everyone eligible, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday.

The federal government hit the critical milestone two months ahead of schedule and after a rocky start to vaccine purchasing in the winter. Since March, the country has moved from drought to deluge in vaccine supply and the focus has shifted to whether enough people will stick out their arms and help avoid a fourth wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“These vaccines work and they’re safe and they’re also available,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters at an event in Moncton. “So with enough doses for everyone, there’s no more excuses to not get your shot.”

Parliamentary Reporter Marieke Walsh reports here.

Reporter’s Comment, Ms. Walsh: “In the last four months (and just in time for a widely expected election call) Canada has moved from vaccine drought to deluge. Up to the end of March, the country had yet to hit 10 million doses, four months later it now has more than 66 million doses. That breaks down to enough shots to fully vaccinate all eligible people – an achievement hit two months ahead of the government’s self-imposed deadline. The milestone is a key box to check before a potential summer election call but with vaccination rates not yet at the levels needed to avoid overwhelming hospitals in a fourth wave, it’s not yet mission accomplished for the jabs.”


RCMP PROBE ABUSE AT MANITOBA RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL – Manitoba Mounties say they have been conducting a large-scale, years-long investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at a residential school. RCMP said Tuesday that officers with the major crime unit began looking into the Fort Alexander Residential School, northeast of Winnipeg, in 2010 and a criminal investigation was launched the following year. Story here.

FEDS APPROVE WEAPONS SALE TO SAUDI ARABIA – The federal government last year approved a deal with Canadian business connections for the sale of nearly $74-million of weapons to Saudi Arabia, even as there were calls for Canada to stop arms transactions with the Saudis, one of the main combatants fuelling the war in Yemen.

SIMON READY TO BE G-G – Mary Simon says she is honoured, humbled and ready to be the first Indigenous person to serve as the Queen’s federal representative in Canada. Her official installation as Governor-General took place in the Senate on Monday.

ERIN O’TOOLE MAKES PROMISES IN ST. JOHN’S – In St. John’s, N.L., federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole promised changes to a fund intended to cushion province from sharp drops in revenue, CBC reports. The story is here.


Private meetings in Moncton. Then the Prime Minister makes a vaccine announcement and holds a media availability. In Charlottetown, the Prime Minister meets with Premier Dennis King, and makes an announcement and holds a news conference with the Premier, federal Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen and others.


Green Party Leader Annamie Paul holds a virtual roundtable discussion on the climate crisis and media availability.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visits wildfire evacuees in Thunder Bay, Ont.


New data from the Angus Reid Institute finds half of respondents in Michigan (48 per cent) and Ontario (49 per cent) want the embattled Line 5 pipeline to stay open. In Quebec, the 72 per cent who have an opinion are split on what the pipeline’s fate should be. Details here.


The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how Vancouver could change the rules of bidding for he Olympic Games: Democratic countries are running out of voters who will expose themselves to a parasitic organization that nourishes itself on the tax dollars of its host, while raking in billions and leaving behind scars like Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, a white elephant that took the city 40 years to pay off. So, where does that leave a Vancouver 2030 bid? It could be a new type of Games for a new era, with all the sports drama and none of the financial pyromania. No additional infrastructure would need to be built; the existing facilities are barely a decade old.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on why Mary Simon may be the Governor-General that makes a difference for Canada:The duties of a governor general are largely ceremonial, though they can also be quite significant. Ms. Simon will preside over and attend public functions. She will, most likely, read a Speech from the Throne after a new ministry forms following an expected fall election. She may be required, as governors-general Julian Byng and Michaëlle Jean were, to decide whether to grant the wish of a prime minister during a constitutional dispute. These are roles and powers of the Queen’s representative in Canada. But Ms. Simon has a greater duty as well: to help heal the hurt and anger of Indigenous Peoples over the discoveries of hundreds of children in unmarked graves at residential schools, along with the many other wounds that non-Indigenous Canadians have inflicted.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on why the time for debating COVID-19 vaccine passports is over: “The most efficient way to stave off this scenario in Canada is requiring proof of vaccination in many public and commercial venues. So let’s dispense with the pointless rhetorical “debate” about whether vaccine certificates or passports are necessary, or represent some gruesome violation of rights and freedoms, and focus on how to make the rules as clear, simple and fair as possible. Canada has, to date, failed miserably on that count, with an incomprehensible jumble of wishful thinking, buck-passing and illogical public policies that vary by province and often by individual institution.”

John Boyko (Contributor to The Globe and Mail) on how Canada is making the same mistakes in Yemen that it did in Vietnam: “Brock University assistant professor Simon Black has led protests against continuing our involvement in the Yemen war through continuing our arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “Most Canadians don’t realize that weapons manufactured here continue to fuel a war that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people,” he has said. He’s wrong. We know. We knew in the 1960s when we were profiting from the immoral war in Vietnam. And we know now.”

Don Braid (The Calgary Herald) on a looming federal election that won’t shake Alberta’s Conservative landscape, but could come with some surprises: NDP MP Heather McPherson already holds Edmonton Strathcona, the federal riding that includes provincial leader Rachel Notley’s own turf. McPherson is the only non-Conservative MP in the province. She could soon have company. An NDP breakthrough of even a few seats would be a genuine first in Alberta. And the Liberals would have themselves to blame.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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America’s vaccination woes cannot be blamed only on politics – The Economist



ARKANSAS, LIKE many other American states, is in the middle of another wave of the covid-19 pandemic. Its only health-sciences university hospital, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), is near capacity as it battles severe covid-19 infections, mostly among the unvaccinated. Across the state, covid-19 infections are worryingly high: the positivity rate, the percentage of all tests that are positive for covid-19, is five times the national average, according to a UAMS report. And vaccination rates are low: only 41% among people aged 12 and older, compared with the nationwide average of 58%, the Arkansas Department of Health said on July 26th. UAMS researchers describe the situation as “a raging forest fire”.

Meanwhile restaurants in Little Rock, the state capital, are packed with diners, most of them unmasked. (The state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, signed a law in April banning public institutions, but not private businesses, from requiring masks.) Customers chatter away inside air-conditioned restaurants, ignoring the patios outside. Some establishments post signs encouraging face coverings: “Consistent with CDC guidelines, unvaccinated guests and customers should wear masks,” says one sign in a hotel lobby. But that same lobby was filled with unmasked visitors. Many employees at these places wear face coverings, though not all.

The contrast between the situation inside hospitals and life elsewhere in Little Rock is striking. “The truth is, walking around here, you should be seeing people who are masked up,” says Cam Patterson, the chancellor of UAMS. “What you’re seeing is actually part of what is causing this forest fire to rage.”

Throughout the United States covid-19 is spreading rapidly, mostly owing to the highly contagious Delta variant. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the seven-day moving average of daily new cases on July 23rd (40,246) increased by 47% compared with the average a week earlier . This is 251% higher than the lowest average in the past 12 months, recorded on June 19th.

Areas with the lowest vaccination rates are being hit the hardest. Arkansas has had 367 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. About 45% of its adults are fully vaccinated. Louisiana has 306 new cases per 100,000 people and a 47% vaccination rate among adults. By contrast, Vermont, with a vaccination rate of 78%, has only 13 new cases per 100,000 residents, and New Hampshire, where 68% of adults are vaccinated, has 15.

Many Democrats have been quick to blame Republican politics for the soaring infections. Republicans are less likely than Democrats to get vaccinated. They were also less likely to comply with social distancing last year.

Prominent Republican leaders have long politicised the jab and other covid-19 prevention methods, such as masks and social distancing. In Texas, where new cases are running at 120 per 100,000 residents, the governor has decreed that people cannot be obliged to wear masks in public spaces. Several Republican governors and state legislatures, including Arkansas and Florida, have some form of ban on vaccine passports. Republican legislators in Tennessee pressed their state health department to stop outreach to teens for any vaccinations, covid or otherwise.

Fox News, America’s most-watched cable news outlet, has been a forum for vaccine scepticism for months, though it recently began encouraging the jab during prime time. Former President Donald Trump hid his vaccination status for weeks before touting inoculation.

But the problem goes beyond that disinformation and poor leadership. The barrage of scepticism would have been much less effective had people been equipped with a better understanding of health and science. “We have really struggled with health literacy over the years, this is not new,” explains Jennifer Dillaha of the Arkansas Department of Health. “People struggle with how to get good health information and apply it to their lives. And this existed as a problem in our state, long before the previous administration.”

Covid-19 is not the only health epidemic raging across the United States. The states struggling the most with covid-19 infections also have the least healthy populations. About two out of five American adults are obese, according to the CDC. One in four young adults is too heavy to serve in the military, and America is the fattest country in the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. Heart disease accounts for one in four deaths. Almost half of Americans have high blood pressure, and 12% have high cholesterol. About one in ten has type 2 diabetes. For all of these diseases, states with the highest prevalence also tend to have the lowest vaccination rates.

Many Americans have trouble staying healthy because they lack access to resources. Only 23% of people get enough exercise and only one in ten eats enough fruit and vegetables, says the CDC. But more than half of Americans do not live within one mile of a park, and 40% of all households do not live within a mile of shops where they can buy fresh produce.

For many, illiteracy is also part of the trouble. Less than half of Americans are proficient readers, and only 12% are considered by the country’s health department to be “health-literate”. Over one-third struggle with basic health tasks, such as following prescription-drug directions. Couple this widespread illiteracy with a lack of access to consistent health care (one in eight adults reports not going to a doctor in the past year because of the cost), and America was bound to have a vaccination problem.

In the short term, policymakers are implementing pandemic-mitigation measures. California and New York City are requiring public employees to be vaccinated or tested regularly. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced vaccination requirements for its medical employees on July 26th. The next day President Joe Biden said the federal government was considering a similar requirement for its employees.

Masks are also returning for the vaccinated. Los Angeles county reimposed its mask-wearing requirement on July 22nd, and the CDC advised on July 27th that everyone (jabbed or not) should wear masks indoors in areas with high covid-19 transmission. In Arkansas the mayor of Little Rock is prepared to defy the state’s ban on mask mandates. “I took an oath to serve and protect the public health, safety, and welfare of every resident of Little Rock,” explains Frank Scott junior, a Democrat. “And so if it gets to the point that we need to do something, we will. Even if it means we go against the state.”

But in the longer term, education and trusted information—along with access to better health care—will be vital in overcoming disinformation, raising vaccination rates and improving America’s overall health.

“I’m not finding that blame is very useful,” says Dr Dillaha. “No one is choosing to not get vaccinated because they’re wanting to make a bad decision for themselves.”

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