California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced what appears to be the first state COVID-19 response plan intended to guide a shift toward living with the coronavirus.
Newsom said the plan, which emphasizes preparedness and flexibility, is not a declaration of victory over the coronavirus. Instead, it is “a new phase of addressing the challenges and realities of this disease.”
“We move out of the pandemic phase, and we move into a phase which should allow confidence that we are not walking away – that we’re taking the lessons learned, and we’re leaning into the future,” Newsom said at a press conference.
Cartoons on the Coronavirus
The plan includes steps like monitoring data and frontline conditions to ensure the state is “ready to respond to new and emerging variants and changing conditions.” It stresses maintaining wastewater surveillance systems and sequencing at least 10% of positive COVID-19 test specimens to see how the virus changes. It also “strongly” recommends masking in public indoor settings but doesn’t require it.
The plan does not provide specific metrics that would trigger the implementation of mitigation measures like mask wearing.
It does include some specific goals, like being able to add 3,000 medical workers to facilities across the state within two-three weeks if needed and stockpiling 75 million masks.
“It is clear the virus will remain with us for some time, if not forever,” the plan states. “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.”
The plan highlights a growing desire among state leaders to chart paths into a new phase of the pandemic as coronavirus cases fall.
Newsom joined several Democratic states by letting California’s indoor mask mandate expire on Tuesday. Washington state and New Mexico both announced plans Thursday to drop their mask mandates.
The moves have put the Biden administration in a tough position, as they go against current federal guidance. But the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency will update its coronavirus guidance “soon.”
“We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday.