I’m wading into political waters, but it is certainly related to travel and merits our discussion. There’s a big brouhaha in California over Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to push social distancing guidelines by dining maskless and ostensibly indoors at a famous Michelin starred restaurant with friends and lobbyists. Meanwhile a delegation of California legislators are in Maui this week for a conference on COVID-19. Calls of hypocrisy are growing in volume and bipartisan. But I’m not outraged over these incidents. If anything, I am outraged that more cannot enjoy the same thing.
California Governor Breaks Own Social Distancing Guidelines To Dine At Swanky Restaurant
Newsom was “caught” at The French Laundry, a Michelin star restaurant in Napa Valley. He was celebrating the birthday of a lobbyist from the California Medical Association and joined with 11 friends to partake in the meal. Masks were not worn and though the private dining room had floor-to-ceiling retractable doors on one side, witnesses reported they were closed at points during the meal when the party became too loud.
Newsom has recently urged Californians to abstain from traveling, avoid social gatherings for Thanksgiving with non-family members, and hold any gatherings that do occur outdoors and with masks.
Asked about it on the day that Newsom ordered thousands of restaurants across the state to cease indoor dining, Newsom fessed up:
“I want to apologize to you because I need to preach and practice, not just preach and not practice, and I’ve done my best to do that. We’re all human. We all fall short sometimes.”
Newsom has also been criticized for placing his children back in school while most California families are forced to juggle work with distance learning for their own children.
His kids can learn in person. But yours can’t.
He can celebrate birthday parties. But you can’t.
He can dine on a $350 meal at one California’s fanciest restaurants during the worst recession in generations. But you definitely can’t.
Can you believe this? I can’t. https://t.co/lmRBWh9rpS
— Kevin Faulconer (@Kevin_Faulconer) November 14, 2020
California Legislators Head To Hawaii
Meanwhile, a handful of legislators from California headed to Maui this week for a four-day COVID-19 conference at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in Wailea.
This comes as broad community spread is being reported in California and officials have urged residents to avoid travel during the upcoming holidays.
Looking Beyond “Rules For Thee, Not For Me” In California
Technically, the governor did not violate COVID-19 guidelines. The text of the rules designates a room with three walls as “outdoor” and merely suggests, not mandates, that only members of the same household sit together. Masks obviously do not have to be worn while eating and drinking.
Similarly, the lawmakers who are in Hawaii this week are not violating a travel ban and have complied with State of Hawaii testing protocols. Social distancing and masks will be mandated at the conference.
But the bipartisan outrage is more over violations of the spirit of the law, not the letter. Newsom admitted as much during his apology on Monday.
Nevertheless, I find myself unable to be outraged over the conduct of the governor and state legislators. A special dinner with friends at The French Laundry is something that left an indelible positive mark on my brother and something I hope to experience one day as well. Traveling to Hawaii for a conference may be unnecessary, but travel is one of the greatest gifts of life on this Earth and has become quite safe with the protocols in place.
> Read More: The Joy Of Flying, Even In Economy Class
Yes, yes, but why now you might be thinking. Why travel during a pandemic when hospital beds are filling up? Why preach one thing and practice another?
All fair questions.
These are questions we must wrestle with as a society. Is there a third way that avoids the harsh economic and mental effects of lockdown? Is it really fair to say that those who partake in intimate dinners with friends or travel to Hawaii are selfish jerks? Or those that find a way to send their kids to private school hate their neighbor? Wouldn’t you do the same thing if you could?
And my post ends here, quite unsatisfyingly. I don’t have an answer. My post was simply to express my solidarity with the deeply-rooted human desire for fellowship and adventure. We must be vigilant to guard the vulnerable among us and realize that the 40-50% of COVID-19 spread is by asymptomatic carriers. Maybe we should all just stay home for a little while longer until a proven vaccine is widely available….I’m not exactly arguing against it.
But anyone who loves travel can appreciate and see how safe it has become and therefore appreciate the dilemma. We can also look at the millions unemployed and ask how we handle this now, not look back at what we should have done eight months ago.
Life is a constant cost-benefit analysis of risk and reward. Before jumping on our leaders for dining out or flying to Hawaii, we should instead ask whether we are comfortable with the consequences of doing so ourselves and move beyond the unhelpful exchange of dire threats and swift condemnation.
Effective this week, 96% of California is now in a “purple tier” again, meaning indoor dining in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops or indoor worship at churches, synagogues, and mosques is now prohibited. Is wearing masks and social distancing inside meaningfully less safe than crowding tighter outside?
This goes beyond COVID-19 fatigue. It gets to the heart of what it means to live and approach life. And it gets to the heart of how to treat a virus that will be within our midst for a very long time.
I don’t have the answer here. I’m really struggling at this point to think through this in a smart way that balances the many dimensions of compassion required to navigate this unique period of life. Death occurs not just from COVID-19 but from the unintended consequences of lockdowns. Is a utilitarian approach best?
Like the governor, my son is also in school. I won’t apologize. I traveled to Germany last week and New Jersey this week. I won’t apologize. I support my local businesses during a time in which they are starved for business. I won’t apologize (and wish more would support mine…). And I’ve done all of this carefully with masks, distancing, and contactless payment. I am not materially rich, but I am resourceful. We test often and religiously wash our hands and wipe down surfaces. I go to the grocery store near midnight to avoid crowds. Should a healthy person be perpetually locked in at home?
It’s a battle I fight in my mind every day.