LOS ANGELES—Marking a shift in the battle against COVID-19, state officials on Feb. 17 announced a framework based on the idea that the virus will be a continuing presence, and moving California into an ongoing state of readiness to address localized outbreaks and respond to potential new variants of the virus—while trying to give residents at least a sense of normalcy.
“We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus, and we will maintain a readiness posture and stay on top of the nature of change that is so self-evident with this pandemic and disease,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference in Fontana. “We are moving … away from a more control construct of mandates to one where we create the conditions and an environment where we are not reacting but we are maintaining a posture where we are staying on top of the mutations … and making sure that we are communicating more effectively.”
The state’s “SMARTER” plan continues to emphasize the importance of vaccinations and testing, along with continued education about the virus, communication with residents about conditions as they change, and vigilance for new variants that could potentially emerge and lead to new surges.
The tenants of the plan are SMARTER—shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education, and “Rx” or treatment.
“It is clear the virus will remain with us for some time, if not forever,” according to the official document released by the governor’s office. “It is less clear how often and how much it will continue to impact our health and well-being. However, we know what works, and have built the necessary tools over the last two years that allows us to learn and hone our defenses to this virus as it evolves.”
California Republican Party Chair Jessica Millan Patterson issued a statement that blasted Newsom’s announcement as long on rhetoric but short on substance.
“In the most over-hyped announcement since the opening of Al Capone’s vault, Gavin Newsom today served an extra-large helping of word salad and little else,” Patterson said. “Let us know when he decides to follow the lead of other blue states and end his state of emergency or lift his school mask mandate …”
The plan is designed to move the state beyond the pandemic and more into an “endemic” stage in which residents will learn to co-exist with a stubborn virus.
“Today is about balance almost more than it is about anything else,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters. “Balance between a message of hope and successful adaptation, but also prepared vigilance. Today is not about moving on, but rather about moving forward.”
Ghaly said the framework is founded on the knowledge that has been collected about the virus over the past two years, including the best ways to respond to certain types of new variants. It also acknowledges growing immunity across the state, be it through vaccination or prior infection, or both. The overall theme is one of preparedness, Ghaly said.
Part of that preparedness will be a state stockpile of masks, ventilators, over-the-counter tests and other resources necessary to respond if outbreaks occur. Ghaly said that unlike past pandemic-response plans, the SMARTER framework does not contain pre-determined thresholds that would trigger select restrictions.
“We’re gliding into normal. We’re not announcing the normal. … This is a state that’s going to have tools available and keep our antennas up,” Ghaly said.
“It’s going to give us confidence on how to move about not in fear any longer but with a sense that we at the state are going to have everyone’s back, giving good information that’s clear and allow them (residents) to do many of the things that maybe they’ve put on hold, which they’re just starting to get to do and do it with confidence,” he said. “And that also includes being able to tell folks when we’re seeing something of concern.”