Gov. Gavin Newsom meets with Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia on Wednesday. Courtesy of Garcia’s office

While praising California for one of the best COVID- 19 vaccination rates in the country, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday the rate remains too low, and he blamed “right-wing” pundits for spreading misinformation and contributing to vaccine hesitancy.

He also insisted the state has no plans to institute a “vaccine passport” system, again calling such a program unnecessary if more people get the shots. But he left the door open for possible new statewide health restrictions if cases continue spiking and hospital space becomes threatened.

“We are not ideological,” he said during an appearance in Long Beach. “I’ll maintain that today as it relates to any subsequent decisions on the basis of epidemiology, on the basis of science, on the basis of the status of our health-care delivery system.”

Newsom said 76.6% of California adults have received at least one dose, and about 75% of residents aged 12 and over. He said the state is stepping up its work with community groups, churches and local medical practices to encourage vaccinations for those who remain hesitant.

“We are trying to combat the misinformation on these right-wing shows, these right-wing pundits,” Newsom said. “They are simply ideological about this.

“It was nice to see one of them last night or two nights ago finally acknowledge the truth about science and the efficacy of these vaccines,” Newsom said in reference to pro-vaccine comments this week by Fox News host Sean Hannity. “We need to see more of that. We need to see more courage of conviction for those that have privately gotten the vaccine but are out there preaching somehow that these vaccines are unsafe or leading the public astray on that.”

The governor acknowledged the recent indoor mask-wearing mandate instituted in Los Angeles County in response to surging case numbers, noting that more than half of California residents are now in jurisdictions where there’s at least some form of recommendation for mask wearing. He also stressed that mask-wearing will be mandatory in schools this fall.

But he held back from suggesting a more general statewide mask mandate might be on the horizon. He also insisted that requiring people to carry a “vaccine passport” is “unnecessary if we continue to see increases in vaccinations.” But he said individual businesses can make their own decisions about what to require from employees and customers.

“We subscribe to a point of view that local businesses can make determinations for themselves of what’s appropriate,” he said.

He noted the spread of the infectious “Delta” variant of the virus, saying it now represents 60% of California cases that undergo special sequencing to identify variants.

“The most important thing we can do to get this pandemic behind us is to get vaccinated,” he said. “I want to encourage everybody that hasn’t gotten vaccinated to get vaccinated. I also encourage you if you’re hesitant to get vaccinated to consider the words of those that are in ICU’s and hospitals right now. The universal regret. Listen to their words, not mine. The universal regret is ‘could have, would have. I wish I had gotten vaccinated.'”

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