With perhaps more than 70% of Americans at least temporarily immune to the omicron variant, states are easing restrictions and making plans for a new phase of COVID. California became the first state to reveal an endemic plan.
“We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
Several emergency orders will remain in place, though California has lifted its indoor mask mandate and has set a date of Feb. 28 to announce when schoolchildren will no longer be required to wear masks. The endemic plan calls for a stockpile of 75 million masks, the ability to provide 200,000 vaccinations and 500,000 tests per day in areas with an outbreak, and the ability to surge 3,000 healthcare workers within three weeks to outbreak areas. The state will monitor virus levels in wastewater to stay on top of outbreaks.
“This pandemic won’t have a defined end. There’s no finish line,” Newsom said.
Newsom’s administration calls the plan SMARTER, an acronym for shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education, and Rx, referring to prescription treatments that have come on the market in recent months. The education pillar includes efforts to combat misinformation and clear explainer about changing rules in various counties and as the situation evolves. California will also partner with the federal government to study the long-term impacts of COVID on people and communities.
“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 to try to implement things that we have strong evidence that work,” University of Southern California epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Klausner told the Associated Press.
If we truly are transitioning to an endemic phase of COVID, state and local governments will need new approaches to keep things manageable and hospitalizations and deaths at a minimum.