It's the first shift by a state to an "endemic" approach to the coronavirus pandemic that emphasizes prevention and quick reactions to outbreaks over mandates, a milestone nearly two years in the making that harkens to a return to a more normal existence.
"The focus is going to be being prepared and being ready," California’s health secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said Monday in presaging the announcement.
"How do we continue to live with a virus that changes and kind of throws curveballs at different times?" he said, given that there is no guarantee the next variant won’t be more virulent.
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The move comes a day after California lifted its latest indoor masking mandate and after officials said they would delay until Feb. 28 an announcement on when they will stop requiring masks in schools.
The schools announcement trails many other states in what Ghaly said is a sign of California’s cautious approach.
It comes nearly two years after Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, imposed the nation’s first statewide stay-home order, temporarily crippling the state’s economy in contrast to approaches in Republican states like Florida and Texas that took a more hands-off approach.
California’s economy and tax revenue have since rebounded, producing record budget surpluses that along with federal money have paid for billions of dollars in virus-related programs and economic assistance.
The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, but health experts have been expecting the coronavirus to eventually become endemic.
The omicron surge is ebbing as quickly as it spiked in December, with new cases falling back to near pre-surge levels. Hospitalizations and intensive care cases were also falling, and the state’s forecasting models predict a continued gradual easing over the next month.
Newsom last week said the state’s plan will build on what officials have learned over the last two years.
It will include mass testing to spot new surges and virus variants along with quarantines and other data-driven precautions where needed, he said, along with a continued emphasis on vaccinations and booster shots that can prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death.
The state will also mount a new effort to counter misinformation and disinformation that can discourage vaccinations, Newsom said. Disinformation is generally considered to be intentional or deliberate falsehoods, while misinformation can be inadvertent.
Ghaly said the same constant, intensive monitoring will be useful in spotting other similar respiratory airborne diseases, while leading to improvements in California’s overall public health system.
"For California and our future, it is about being ready and being prepared," Ghaly said. That includes "learning from what we’ve done, learning from our experiences to date and making sure Californians can feel confident in the tools that we’re putting together."
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