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California to pull plug on Covid emergency after three years

The emergency declaration expires Feb. 28, giving time for the state to weather a possible winter surge.

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday the state of emergency he declared at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic will end Feb. 28.

"Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been guided by the science and data — moving quickly and strategically to save lives," Newsom said in statement. "The state of emergency was an effective and necessary tool that we utilized to protect our state, and we wouldn’t have gotten to this point without it."

The state is still averaging more than 1,000 Covid transmissions — and more than 30 Covid-related deaths — every day. Those numbers are the lowest they've been in more than a year. And yet the winters of both 2020 and 2021 saw surges brought on by new variants, killing hundreds of people a day. Many health experts warn a similar spike could come later this year.

Newsom noted ending the state of emergency at the end of February 2023 would give "the health care system needed flexibility to handle any potential surge that may occur after the holidays in January and February, in addition to providing state and local partners the time needed to prepare for this phaseout and set themselves up for success afterwards."

The state has already been shifting to a longer-term strategy of managing Covid, which Newsom has dubbed "SMARTER." This past February, when he unveiled the plan, he said, "There is no end date. There’s no moment where we declare victory."

The strategy includes stockpiling masks and tests and building the capacity to add at least 3,000 extra health care workers to help out with the next surge. And the state will no longer have benchmarks that automatically trigger mask mandates or lockdowns as it had earlier this year.

"While the threat of this virus is still real, our preparedness and collective work have helped turn this once crisis emergency into a manageable situation," Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health & Human Services Agency, said in the statement.

Newsom first declared the state of emergency on March 4, 2020, a week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the novel coronavirus was heading toward pandemic status. The declaration would pave the the way for more than 70 different executive orders, covering everything from vaccine production to a pause on evictions. Many of those declarations have been phased out already.

California's Covid protection measures were some of the toughest in the nation. State and local governments enacted a slew of lockdowns and vaccine and mask mandates. Numerous lawsuits were filed to stop them, and Newsom faced a recall attempt largely driven by what some viewed as his overreaction to the pandemic. But voters overwhelmingly rejected the recall, signaling a certain level of satisfaction with the Covid restrictions. Newsom is up for reelection in November and is expected to trounce his opponent, Republican state Senator Brian Dahle.

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