After an almost two-year global emergency, state officials are signaling that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. They say it’s time to take a new approach now that the omicron variant is circulating widely without overwhelming hospitals.
“Today COVID-19 is no longer a novel foe,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. ” … While we lived in a relative state of fear for much of the last two years, we can now balance these concerns by being smarter.”
At a news conference Thursday, Ghaly revealed the state’s new framework, called the SMARTER Plan, for addressing the next phase of the COVID-19 response. The SMARTER plan acronym stands for:
- Shots: maintaining a capacity to administer 200,000 vaccines per day;
- Masks: maintaining a stockpile of 75 million high-quality masks;
- Awareness: maintaining the ability to communicate with all 58 counties;
- Readiness: sequencing 10% of all positive COVID-19 tests; surveilling wastewater for COVID-19, and maintaining the ability to add 3,000 clinical staff within two to three weeks;
- Testing: maintaining the capacity to perform at least 500,000 tests per day;
- Education: expanding state-supported, school-based vaccination sites by 25%;
- Rx: ensuring the supply of medicine and treatments are readily available.
The release comes shortly after the expiration of the statewide mask mandate on Tuesday night. Humboldt County Public Health Officer Ian Hoffman also rescinded the local mask mandate, though state regulations still require unvaccinated people to wear a mask in indoor public settings.
This shift in approach is possible because public health officials better understand the virus and a wall of immunity has been built up through infections and “the miracle of the vaccines,” which are “the key tool that prevents us from dying from the virus,” Ghaly said.
As of Tuesday, about 73% of the county’s population over the age of 5, 87,492 residents, was fully vaccinated, according to county Public Health data. About 7% of the population aged 5 or older has been partially vaccinated.
That number is expected to go up since the state is planning on requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for kids attending school as soon as regulators approve them for their age bracket.
Gov. Gavin Newsom directed the state Department of Public Health to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the other vaccinations students are required to get, such as the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, in order to attend school in person.
Right now, the state is projecting the requirement to go into effect for students entering grades 7-12 on July 1. The requirement is pending the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the vaccine for the age groups within that grade span. Vaccination requirements for kindergarten through sixth grade would go into effect the term after full FDA approval.
Those regulations would still be subject to medical and religious exemptions.
For questions about vaccinations and testing days, times or locations, call the county’s Joint Information Center at 707-441-5000 or go to https://humboldtgov.org/2749/Dashboard.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.