California adopts first national ‘endemic’ virus policy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California became the first state to officially transition to an “endemic” approach to the coronavirus with Governor Gavin Newsom’s Thursday announcement of a plan that emphasizes prevention and response. to outbreaks rather than mandatory masking and business closures.

The stage, which has been in the works for nearly two years, envisions a return to a more normal existence using a variety of initiatives and billions in new spending to detect surges or variants more quickly, add healthcare workers, store tests and fend off against misrepresentation and other misinformation.

“We are moving from the crisis phase to a phase where we will work to live with this virus,” he told a press conference from a state warehouse overflowing with pandemic supplies in Fontana, Utah. east of Los Angeles.

The first-term Democrat, who survived a recall election last year sparked by criticism of his governance during the pandemic, promised the state’s nearly 40 million residents that as the push for ‘omicron fades, ‘we’re gonna protect them and we’re gonna stay on top of it.

Governor Gavin Newsom announces the next phase of California’s COVID-19 response called “SMARTER,” during a press conference at the UPS Healthcare warehouse in Fontana, California on February 17, 2022.

Watchara Phomicinda/Orange County Registry via AP

A disease reaches the endemic stage when the virus still exists in a community but becomes manageable as immunity develops. But there won’t be a definitive turn of the switch, the Democratic governor said, unlike the case of Wednesday’s lifting of the state’s indoor masking requirements or an upcoming announcement on February 28 indicating when precisely schoolchildren may stop wearing face coverings.

And there will be no immediate lifting of the dozens of remaining executive emergency orders that have helped run the state since Newsom imposed the first statewide stay-at-home order in March. 2020.

“This pandemic will have no definite end. There is no finish line,” Newsom said.

The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and with the disappearance of omicron in many parts of the world, some countries have begun planning for the endemic stage. But no state has taken the step that Newsom has taken and offered a detailed forward plan.

Republicans have frequently criticized Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus and were quick to disparage his latest efforts. State GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson called it a “really big helping of word salad” and renewed the call to “follow the lead of other blue states and end its state of ’emergency or lift its school mask mandate’.

Newsom’s plan sets specific goals, such as stockpiling 75 million masks, setting up the infrastructure to deliver up to 200,000 vaccinations and 500,000 tests per day in the event of an outbreak, and adding 3,000 medical workers in three weeks in peak areas.

Newsom’s administration has come up with an abbreviated acronym to sum up the key elements of its new approach: SMARTER. The letters stand for Shots, Masks, Awareness, Readiness, Testing, Education and Rx, a reference to improving treatments for COVID-19.

Dr Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California, said while some might argue it should have happened sooner, he thinks “the time has come”.

“Surveillance, testing, vaccination and treatment make the context very different and make it appropriate to shift our response from a pandemic response of trying to do everything possible, to a more rational response of trying to put implement things that we have strong evidence of that work,” Klausner said.

The plan includes increased monitoring for virus remnants in sewage to watch for early signs of an outbreak. Masks will not be mandatory but will be encouraged in many settings.

If a higher level of the virus is detected, health officials will determine if it is a new variant. If so, state and federal authorities aim to determine within 30 days whether he responds to existing tests, treatments and immunities from vaccines or previous infections.

California Health Secretary Dr Mark Ghaly said one of the goals was to avoid business closings and other high-profile mandates. However, he said the state’s requirement that school children be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the fall remains in effect.

The plan includes new education, including “mythbuster videos” to combat misinformation and misinformation and help interpret ever-changing precautions for a confused public lashed by safeguards that seem to change day by day and vary by county.

In coordination with the federal government, he calls for a first national study of the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic in the long term on people and communities.

All of this will cost billions, much of which is already outlined in the pandemic response plan Newsom requested as part of his budget last month. That includes $1.9 million that lawmakers have already approved to increase staffing at hospitals and increase coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution, as well as existing money and planned federal funds.

His proposed budget also includes $1.7 billion to bolster the state’s health care workforce, with more investments in increasing lab testing capacity, data collection and outbreak investigation. .

Newsom, who has come under fire for sometimes failing to follow his own rules, defended keeping in place some of his executive emergency orders, which he says recently allowed the state to quickly call in emergency services. temporary medical workers and rapidly distribute more than 13 million home test kits to schools.

Those ordinances have dropped from 561 to less than 100 in recent months, he said, and his administration is working with legislative leaders to eventually make them unnecessary.


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