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Politicians are asking for the public's help to fight Covid — before going out to dinner or on vacation

The governors of California and Oklahoma and the mayors of Austin, Texas, and San Francisco are among those not practicing what they preach.
Image: Gavin Newsom
Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on April 14, 2020.Rich Pedroncelli / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

As elected officials plead with constituents to wear masks, maintain social distance and avoid indoor gatherings, some have not been following their own coronavirus messaging.

A growing list of elected officials have been caught traveling, enjoying dinner parties and going on exotic vacations as America embarks on what could be a dark winter of the pandemic's deadly surge.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday outlined sweeping stay-at-home orders that'll kick into effect when intensive care beds fill up in coming days with those infected from holiday travels.

Newsom's decree came a few weeks after he attended a dinner party with a dozen friends at a luxurious French Laundry restaurant in the wine country north of San Francisco.

When asked directly if he's lost credibility on the issue, Newsom, a Democrat, sidestepped the question on Thursday, saying, "I'm doing my job, I'll continue to do my job, that's what I have to do."

Dr. Vin Gupta, from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said political leaders are losing the struggle to win the trust of Americans.

"When you see a Gavin Newsom say 'Do as I say, but but not as I do,' and then goes to Napa Valley and has his private party, that's deeply injurious to trust," Gupta told NBC News on Friday.

"If somebody says, 'Hey we're going to lock down, we're going to stop your small business, you got to shut it down for the benefit of the pandemic' or 'You're the parent of two teenaged kids, you got to arrange for in-home instruction' and then you see they themselves are not behaving within the same guardrails they're imposing on you, how are you not going to push back? "

And Newsom is not alone in his mixed messaging.

  • San Francisco Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, admitted Thursday that she attended an indoor dinner and birthday party, also at French Laundry, on Nov. 7. The contrite mayor tweeted: "I need to hold myself to a higher standard and I will do better."
  • Earlier this week, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, was photographed improperly wearing his mask, at times exposing his nose and mouth, as he few out of Oklahoma City. His office did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Friday.
  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, apologized on Wednesday after The Austin American-Statesman revealed that he traveled in early November to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — and while abroad, even recorded a message urging his constituents to stay home to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

"I need to set a clearer example so that my message is unambiguous, and for the failure to do that I sincerely apologize," Adler said in a video posted on Wednesday.

While these political leaders didn't break any laws, medical ethicist Arthur Caplan said Friday these examples "set back compliance and makes people skeptical" of any number of coronavirus mandates.

"It’s the politicians and the celebrities that set the messaging in our social media and media," said Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. "And what they do counts, for better or worse."

More than 278,000 Americans have died due to the pandemic, as of Friday.