SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed regret Friday for attending a birthday party at an exclusive Wine Country restaurant last week, ignoring his own state’s advisories on gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The San Francisco Chronicle broke the news earlier Friday that the governor attended the Nov. 6 50th birthday party for Jason Kinney, one of his political advisers, at the world-renowned French Laundry in Yountville. The party hosted more than 12 people, which defies state guidelines on public gatherings during the pandemic.
Asked for a comment about the party, Newsom released the following statement:
“While our family followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions, we should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner.”
The story emerged as the state and the rest of the country contend with a massive spike in COVID-19 cases. The United States recently went over 10 million cases, while California hit the million-case mark on Thursday, becoming the second state besides Texas in the nation to pass that number.
The recent surge in cases led a number California counties to move backwards in the state’s tiered COVID-19 risk assessment system, with both Contra Costa and Santa Cruz counties in the greater Bay Area moving from the less restrictive Orange Tier to the Red Tier on Tuesday.
Other Bay Area counties including Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara are rolling back or pausing scheduled reopenings for businesses, schools and other public areas, with health officials in both Alameda and Santa Clara counties warning they too will likely be moved to the Red Tier next week.
Newsom has been pushing for Californians to socially distance themselves, avoid crowds, wear masks, avoid mixing households and other COVID-19 precautions since the pandemic hit in March. He has increased that push during this recent resurgence.
“3.7% 14-day positivity rating may sound great, compared to most other states right now,” Newsom said at a news conference the Monday after the dinner.
“We’re starting to see people, again, take down their guard,” Newsom said. “Taking off their mask, and begin to mix outside their households.”
After the Chronicle story broke, Newsom’s team initially defended his action. New guidelines issued Oct. 9 allowed small, private gatherings, as long as it consisted of members of three households or less. Newsom’s communication director Nathan Click said that the party didn’t defy state guidelines for restaurants because they “limit the number of patrons at a single table to a household unit or patrons who have asked to be seated together.”
The state guidelines also require gatherings be held outside and that they be kept to two hours or less.
Like The French Laundry cuisine grown in the field across the street from the restaurant, claims of ‘hypocrisy’ immediately went sprouting online.
“I definitely think our leaders of the state and in the country need to set a good example,” said Kelly Vandenakker in Napa. “So is it setting a good example to do exactly what you’re telling the rest of us not to do? No.”
The administration is trying to move on from the incident. California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly seemed to speak for state officials when he answered a question about the party during his update on the state’s handling of COVID-19 Friday afternoon.
“My focus is on ensuring we deal with the reality of surging cases with the guidance that I provided today,” Dr. Ghaly said.