California approves nation’s first ‘endemic’ virus policy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California became the first state to formally adopt an “endemic” approach to the coronavirus with Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement Thursday of a plan that emphasizes prevention and rapid response to outbreaks over mandatory masking and business closures.

The milestone, nearly two years in the making, sees a return to a more normal life using a variety of initiatives and billions in new spending to more quickly detect peaks or variants, add health professionals, test and curb false claims and other misinformation.

“We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus,” he said during a news conference from a state warehouse full of pandemic supplies in Fontana, east of Los Angeles.
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The first-term Democrat, who survived a recall last year driven by critics of his governance during the pandemic, promised the state’s nearly 40 million residents that when the ommicron wave wears off, “we’ll keep them safe and we’ll keep them safe.” stay on top of it.”

A disease reaches the endemic stage when the virus still exists in a community, but becomes manageable as immunity increases. But there won’t be a definitive turnaround, the Democratic governor said, unlike with the lifting of state requirements for indoor masks on Wednesday or a Feb. 28 announcement of exactly when schoolchildren will be allowed to 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 country’s first nationwide stay-at-home order in March 2020.

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

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

Republicans have regularly criticized Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus and were quick to discredit his latest effort. State GOP Chair Jessica Millan Patterson called it “an extra large helping of word salad” and renewed calls to “follow the example of other blue states and end its state of emergency or lift its school mask mandate.”

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

Newsom’s administration came up with an abbreviated acronym to summarize 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 that while some may argue these should have come sooner, he believes “the timing is right.”

“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 implement things that we have strong evidence of. have them work. Klausner said.

The plan includes increased monitoring of virus residues in wastewater to look for the first signs of a wave. Masks are not required, but are encouraged in many situations.

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

California Secretary of Health Dr. Mark Ghaly, said one of the goals is to avoid business closures and other far-reaching mandates. However, he said the state’s requirement that schoolchildren be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the fall remains in effect.

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

In partnership with the federal government, it calls for a first-in-the-nation study of the long-term direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic on both people and communities.

All of this will cost billions, much of which has already been outlined in the pandemic response package Newsom sought as part of its budget last month. That includes $1.9 million that lawmakers have already approved to increase hospital staffing and increase coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution, as well as existing money and expected federal funds.

Its proposed budget also includes $1.7 billion to bolster the state’s health workforce, with increased investment in increased lab testing capacity, data collection and outbreak research.

Newsom, who has been criticized for not following his own rules at times, has defended upholding some of his executive emergency orders, which he said recently allowed the state to quickly bring in temporary medical workers and quickly deliver more than 13 people. million to share. home test kits for schools.

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

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