California Gov. Gavin Newsom is being lauded as the first governor to formally shift his state to an "endemic" approach to the coronavirus pandemic by moving away from lockdowns and mask mandates in favor of steps he says will quickly react to outbreaks and prevent virus spread.
The Democratic governor on Thursday announced his new "SMARTER" plan — an acronym that stands for shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education, and Rx — which outlines strategies the state will take to manage future variants of COVID-19.
“We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus," Newsom said at a press conference in Los Angeles Thursday.
In media interviews, the governor emphasized that the coronavirus will never be eradicated and touted his plan as a means by which Californians can learn to accept COVID as an endemic disease, a virus that still exists in the community but becomes manageable because of herd immunity.
“This disease is not going away,” he told the Associated Press in an interview. “It’s not the end of the quote, unquote, war.”
Newsom's announcement comes as he lifted the state's indoor mask mandates earlier this week and is expected to announce when the statewide school mask mandate will end at the end of the month. But there are no plans to lift the dozens of executive emergency orders he put in place since the first statewide stay-home order in March 2020.
“This pandemic won’t have a defined end. There’s no finish line,” he told the AP.
The SMARTER plan calls for California to closely monitor wastewater throughout the state and "enhance respiratory surveillance in the health care system" to identify potential outbreaks of coronavirus. The state will also ramp up PCR or antigen testing, with the goal of having the health care system capable of performing at least 500,000 tests per day.
Vaccine shots will continue to be promoted as the "most powerful weapon" against hospitalization and serious illness from COVID-19, according to a release from the governor's office. The state will also keep a stockpile of 75 million high-quality masks to distribute as needed.
“As we enter the next phase of the pandemic, the state is better equipped than ever to protect Californians from COVID-19 with smart strategies that save lives and advance our ongoing recovery,” Newsom said in a statement. “Building on proven tools – rooted in science and data – that have been honed over the past two years, we’re keeping our guard up with a focus on continued readiness, awareness and flexibility to adapt to the evolving pandemic."
News outlets are celebrating California for being the first to reach a "milestone" that's been "nearly two years in the making."
While Newsom and his cheerleaders in the media can claim he's the first governor to accept COVID-19 as endemic all they like, the reality is that states like Florida and Texas have successfully managed the pandemic for months without any of the lockdowns or mandates that are only now being relaxed in California.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a staunch opponent of mandates and lockdowns, called on the Biden administration and other state governments to recognize that the coronavirus is "not going to ever be eradicated" back in November, when he said the best way to manage the pandemic was to focus on promoting early treatments for infections and vaccines to prevent severe disease.
Florida has been living with COVID-19 for months while Newsom and others have been flouting their own rules, which has led to high school students staging walkouts to protest unscientific masking requirements. California deserves no credit for leadership when all the state is doing is playing catch-up to the real leaders.