Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday that California would be moving to a more “endemic” approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating a more long-term plan for the virus as immunity against it builds.
Newsom’s new endemic plan, known as SMARTER (shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education, Rx treatments) changes up how California is responding to pandemic. While masks will still be largely encouraged in most places, they will not be required, with the end of the statewide indoor mask mandate Wednesday and the upcoming announcement at the end of the month on ending of the school mask mandate. But no date is set yet.
California’s SMARTER Plan is the next phase of our COVID-19 response.
It will guide how we move ahead & be prepared for whatever COVID brings, while building on lessons from the last 2 years.
As cases decline, we’re moving forward – preparing for the future based on what works. pic.twitter.com/c88YE6qMsd
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) February 17, 2022
However, many policies will also still be in place, including the state of emergency and numerous emergency orders that give the Governor more of a direct hand in setting COVID-19 policy and enacting pandemic measures. Recent attempts by the GOP to limit his power failed last week, with those same orders now serving as an important part of the endemic plan.
This allowed Newsom to expand on his SMARTER plan to target COVID-19 misinformation in the news or from online sources and come up with videos that will ”bust’ myths of the virus and come up with a more streamlined way to let the public know about the current precautions that should be followed where they live. The plan will also bring back pandemic measures started by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 but had been defunded in 2011, including the stockpiling of needed materials and focusing on serving areas with the most need. Under Newsom’s plan, the state will stockpile pandemic materials, such as 75 million masks in case of another big variant surge, as well as a better coordinated plan in tracking stockpiles, especially when it comes to more limited items such as ventilators.
Vulnerable and underserved areas will see a rise in vaccination and testing efforts, with Newsom wanting up to 200,000 vaccinations a day and up to 500,000 tests each day until the vast majority of California is covered. 3,000 medical workers will also be shored up through medical contractors to help serve areas hard hit by surges.
Finally, the plan will increase surveillance and monitoring of many areas to spot new variants new surges ahead of time, working with federal officials to quickly respond to the new virus or variant. A study over the long-term direct and indirect impacts would also be started with federal agencies.
Overall, California would have the nation’s first ‘endemic’ plan for COVID-19 that would elevate quick reactions and and prevention over mandates and short-term thinking.
SMARTER plan introduced
“This disease is not going away,” said Newsom on Thursday. “It’s not the end of the quote, unquote, war. It is clear the virus will remain with us for some time, if not forever. It is less clear how often and how much it will continue to impact our health and well-being. This pandemic won’t have a defined end. There’s no finish line. We’ll craft a plan that allows us to be prepared without being paranoid and more alert to what’s happening around us without being anxious.
“One of the fundamental lessons we’ve come to understand is that the disease has evolved and our understanding has to evolve in terms of how we approach it with the kind of flexibility that is required. We have to prepare for that uncertainly, we have to communicate that uncertainty and this plan is put forth with that in mind.”
Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency Mark Ghaly added that flexibility over COVID-19 in the future will be key, with SMARTER having the equipment and medical professionals at the ready in case of another surge, everywhere from prevention to hospitalization focus, dependent on the severity.
“Today is about balance,” explained Ghaly. “Balance between a message of hope and successful adaptation but also prepared vigilance.”
While the shift won praise from many on Thursday, including medical professionals who specifically noted the shift to being long-term as positive, others noted that the state may have jumped the gun with SMARTER.
“SMARTER isn’t a contradiction of terms exactly, as it can apply to any future pandemic and not just new COVID variants,” said Dr. Cristobal Lopez, a doctor who assists in treating and giving COVID-19 PPE to Central American immigrants in Southern California to the Globe on Thursday. “And they have a very flexible plan on zeroing in on any outbreaks. However, it is not going far enough to help underserved populations. That’s who you need to get. Due to travelling a lot and not having money for the right PPE, they are the ones who are not only most vulnerable, but also have the greatest potential to spread variants. It’s why California is so susceptible to surges.
“There is a large, low-wage largely immigrant workforce who we have not been focusing on. They don’t need misinformation videos. They know what to do. They just need access to more precautionary measures. Newsom is focusing on the wrong areas here. He seems to mean well, but it’s in the wrong places.”
SMARTER is expected to cost billions, but with much of it already covered in a $3.2 billion pandemic response part of his budget draft, as well as $1.7 billion for health care workers and outbreak control also in his proposed budget.
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