California adopts nation's 1st 'endemic' COVID-19 policy; Could NY be next?

Coronavirus Update for New York
NEW YORK (WABC) -- California became the first state to formally shift to an "endemic" approach to COVID-19, with Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement Thursday of a plan that emphasizes prevention and quick reaction to outbreaks over mandated masking and business shutdowns.

Living with COVID is something that many people are coming to grips with, and it's a plan that New York could adopt soon.

A disease reaches the endemic stage when the virus still exists in a community but becomes manageable as immunity builds. But there will be no definitive turn of the switch, Newsom said.

The milestone, nearly two years in the making, envisions a return to a more normal existence with the help of a variety of initiatives and billions in new spending to more quickly spot surges or variants, add health care workers, stockpile tests and push back against false claims and other misinformation.

"We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus," Newsom said. "This pandemic won't have a defined end. There's no finish line."

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Newsom's plan sets specific goals, such as stockpiling 75 million masks, establishing the infrastructure to provide up to 200,000 vaccinations and 500,000 tests a day in the event of an outbreak, and adding 3,000 medical workers within three weeks in surge areas.

Newsom's administration came up with a shorthand acronym to capsulize key elements of its new approach: SMARTER. The letters stand for Shots, Masks, Awareness, Readiness, Testing, Education and Rx, a reference to improving treatments for COVID-19.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California, said while some may argue these should have come sooner, he believes "the timing is right on."

"Surveillance, testing, vaccination and treatment make the context very different and make it appropriate to shift our response from a pandemic response of trying to do everything possible, to a more rational response to try to implement things that we have strong evidence that work," Klausner said.

The plan includes increased monitoring of virus remnants in wastewater to watch for the first signs of a surge. Masks won't be required but will be encouraged in many settings.

If a higher level of the virus is detected, health officials will determine if it is a new variant. If so, state and federal officials have a goal to within 30 days determine if it responds to existing tests, treatments and immunities from vaccines or prior infections.

Still, for many, COVID remains very much a concern, and New York and New Jersey officials have not yet outlined a path into the endemic stage.

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The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and with omicron fading in many parts of the world, some countries have begun planning the next step.

But before Thursday, no state has taken the step Newsom did and offered a detailed forward-looking plan.

While some critics say Newsom's decision was driven by politics, the reality is that the list of states easing restrictions continues to grow.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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