California governor on the hot seat over pandemic response

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom has had a summer of muddled messaging and bad news in the coronavirus fight, a trend crystallized this week by his delayed response to a data error that caused a backlog of nearly 300,000 virus test results.

“The buck stops with me, I'm accountable," he said in a tense Monday news conference, his first appearance since state officials revealed the error a week earlier. “No one’s trying to hide that, no one’s trying to mask that, we’re owning that, we’re moving forward to address those issues."

His tone couldn’t have been more different than it was in March, when California’s public battle with the virus began and the state initially avoided the worst outcomes. In commanding news conferences held almost daily, he announced the country's first statewide stay-at-home order and won mostly adherence from the state's 40 million residents.

But things began to change in May, when Newsom, under pressure from business leaders, allowed parts of the economy to begin reopening under a complicated, county-by-county process. Within weeks he reversed course as confirmed cases and the positive test rate rose.

The data backlog, which began at the end of July and continued because of a series of errors, led to the state under-counting the rate of virus spread and halted decision-making about what parts of the economy could open. Newsom has repeatedly stressed that those decisions will be made based on data.

The snafu also poses a political problem for Newsom, a Democratic rising star who is up for reelection in 2022 and is believed to have his eye on even higher office. His decisions in the crisis will help forge his legacy — good or bad — and so far, they are getting mixed reviews.

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