“We have all come to understand what was not understood at the beginning of this crisis: that there is no end date, that there is not a moment where we declare victory,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday as he announced the state’s plan for the next phase of Covid.
“Today is about turning a page, moving from this crisis mentality, moving from a reactive framework to a framework where we are more sentinel,” said the governor. “[We are] moving away from a reactive mindset and a crisis mindset to living with this virus.” Newsom and other state officials laid out what they called their “S.M.A.R.T.E.R” plan for doing so.
The topline of California’s new model is the flexibility to respond to future variants and outbreaks even as the state loosens many restrictions that have become unpopular. As the region’s Director of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly indicated on a call with reporters, it’s less about predicting the future than being ready for it.
One change not being made, according to Ghaly: The state will not soon rescind the emergency declaration that has allowed the governor extraordinary powers to respond to the crisis.
Asked on a call with reporters if the state of emergency would now be lifted, Ghaly indicated that it was still necessary, even as California moves away from its so-called reactive framework.
“As we move out of the mindset of an emergency, we need to make sure the tools that help us manage an emergency well are available,” the HHS director said. “These are the tools that have allowed us to protect Californians in quite an incredible way. We are still using them today.”
Ghaly, like Newsom, stressed the need for flexibility.
“We’re gliding into normal. We’re not announcing the turn to normal,” said the director. “As we move into that, this is a state that will keep the tools available.”
Ghaly did, however, indicate that lifting the emergency declaration was “certainly something we’ve looked at.”
He then offered, “I know that my friends in the legislature are looking to address this.” They are, indeed.
As recently as this week, Republican legislators in the state unsuccessfully tried get a vote on a 2020 resolution known as Senate Concurrent Resolution 5 that would end California’s state of emergency, which Newsom first declared in March of that year.
California State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) indicated on Thursday that the Senate will finally begin debating SCR5 and an end to the state of emergency. Its Governmental Organization Committee will hold a hearing on the subject March 15.
“It’s been 715 DAYS since Newsom began his one-man rule,” Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Lancaster tweeted Thursday. “He has completely side stepped the checks and balances put in place to bring accountability to government. Glad to hear #SCR5 will be heard and debated in the Senate. It’s time to bring an end to this madness.”
It’s been 715 DAYS since Newsom began his one-man rule.
He has completely side stepped the checks and balances put in place to bring accountability to government.
Glad to hear #SCR5 will be heard and debated in the Senate. It’s time to bring an end to this madness.
— Scott Wilk (@ScottWilkCA) February 17, 2022
“We are all tired of living life in an emergency,” said Atkins, “but ending the emergency must be done responsibly to ensure there are no unintended consequences so we can continue to meet the needs of our state’s residents in an unpredictable future.”
The emergency declaration allows the state to do things like shift the nurse-to-patient ratio in hospitals, quickly purchase and distribute Covid tests, accept federal emergency aid, administer vaccines and maintain emergency workplace requirements.
Ghaly sought to reinforce the need for such a declaration saying, “the state of emergency has given us many tools we would otherwise not have.”
According to Politico, Newsom has asserted that only about 15 percent of his nearly 600 pandemic orders remain operative. Indeed, he called a halt to many of them last summer and he has reportedly committed to “terminate provisions as they cease to be necessary.”
“We aren’t out of the woods,” stressed Ghaly. “We are just more familiar with the woods and don’t need to live fully afraid of what’s behind the next tree. We’ve learned that we can’t predict the future of the virus. But perhaps we can have a more predictable response to whatever the future brings.”
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