California Unveils New Plan To ‘Live With Covid’ And Fight Outbreaks Locally

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After lifting California’s mask mandate earlier this week, state officials said Thursday they will shift to a new strategy of monitoring for future coronavirus upticks and rapidly distributing masks and tests to areas where the virus resurges, part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sweeping new plan to begin “living with this virus.”

The state’s “S.M.A.R.T.E.R.” plan—released by Newsom’s administration Thursday— aims to contain future Covid-19 outbreaks at a local level.

If wastewater testing detects a higher-than-normal coronavirus transmission rate in a given community, the state says it will conduct sequencing to confirm whether it is a new variant before sending additional tests, testing staff and hospital workers to the area.

California officials hope to maintain the ability to administer 200,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses and 500,000 Covid-19 tests per day as needed, up from the more than 45,000 vaccine doses and nearly 300,000 tests administered daily in the last week according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Under the plan, the state will continue to “encourage” and “emphasize” mask-wearing in high-risk settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and prisons, as well as crowded spaces like schools and public transportation, and masks may be required in targeted areas of high transmission.

Officials say they plan to stockpile 75 million masks, with Newsom announcing the new strategy at a mask warehouse that he says contains enough supplies to last years.

State health officials also said they’ll work to stock up on the latest therapeutic treatments for Covid-19 as they become available.

Newsom said Thursday the state plans to move “from a reactive framework to a framework where we are more sentinel in our approach, that we stand firm and confident as we lean into the future, moving away from a reactive mindset and a crisis mindset, to living with this virus.”

The state said Thursday it plans to work with the federal government to launch a study—one it framed as the first of its kind in the country—that will examine the direct and indirect long-term impacts of Covid-19 on individuals and communities.

Newsom’s announcement comes as Covid-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations in California—and throughout the country—continue to decline following the winter’s omicron-fueled surge. In response to the waning infection rates, California and some other states lifted their mask mandates for most indoor spaces, though California will still require masks in high-transmission spaces such as schools for at least two more weeks. Santa Clara County and Los Angeles County, California’s largest, have also stated they will maintain their indoor mask mandate despite the statewide lift.

Despite the declining case rates, the CDC has not yet shifted its recommendation to keep wearing masks indoors nationwide, as it still considers nearly the entirety of the country to be an area of “substantial or high transmission” of Covid-19. NBC reported Tuesday the CDC could loosen its masking policy—which is nonbinding advice—as soon as next week if positivity levels continue to decline.

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