Gov. Newsom in Fontana
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in Fontana on Thursday. Image from live stream

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that it is time for California to accept the coronavirus as a continuing presence and return to a degree of normalcy while watching for mutations and local outbreaks.

“We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus, and we will maintain a readiness posture and stay on top of the nature of change that is so self-evident with this pandemic and disease,” Newsom said at a news conference in Fontana.

He said state health officials would would stay focused on the virus as it mutates, but move away from mandates.

The “California SMARTER” plan that he outlined continues to emphasize the importance of vaccinations and testing, along with continued education about the virus, communication with residents about conditions as they change and vigilance for new variants that could potentially emerge and lead to new surges.

The tenants of the plan are SMARTER — shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education and “Rx,” or treatment.

“It is clear the virus will remain with us for some time, if not forever,” according to the official document released by the governor’s office. “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 moves the state beyond the pandemic and more into an “endemic” stage in which residents will learn to co-exist with a stubborn virus.

“Today is about balance almost more than it is about anything else,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters. “Balance between a message of hope and successful adaptation, but also prepared vigilance. Today is not about moving on, but rather about moving forward.”

Ghaly said the framework is founded in the knowledge that has been collected about the virus over the past two years, including the best ways to respond to certain types of new variants. It also acknowledges growing immunity across the state, be it through vaccination or prior infection or both. The overall theme is one of preparedness, Ghaly said.

Part of that preparedness will be a state stockpile of masks, ventilators, over-the-counter tests and other resources necessary to respond if outbreaks occur. Ghaly said that unlike past pandemic-response plans, the SMARTER framework does not contain pre-determined thresholds that would trigger select restrictions.

“We’re gliding into normal. We’re not announcing the normal. …. This is a state that’s going to have tools available and keep our antennas up,” Ghaly said.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who led San Diego County’s efforts in the early days of the pandemic, praised the Governor’s plan.

“This is a responsible approach to turning the page on the crisis mindset that has defined COVID and accepting the reality that while the virus will continue to exist, we must live our lives with a sense of normalcy,” said Fletcher. “The SMARTER plan allows for proactive measures to be in place in case needed and ensures we can continue to provide vaccines, therapeutic treatments, and testing when appropriate.” 

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.