Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans Monday to end California’s COVID-19 state of emergency Feb. 28, 2023.
Under the state of emergency, the California Department of Public Health and Office of Emergency Services has been given more mobility and access to government resources to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. The state of emergency helps facilitate public health interventions such as safety guidelines and temporary vaccination and testing centers, according to the original proclamation of a state of emergency from March 2020.
“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,” Newsom said in a press release. “With the operational preparedness that we’ve built up and the measures that we’ll continue to employ moving forward, California is ready to phase out this tool.”
The announcement is one of many provisions being lifted as California rolls back its pandemic restrictions. However, concerns over winter COVID-19 surges remain prevalent among public health scholars.
According to UC Berkeley School of Public Health professor emeritus John Swartzberg, the past two winters have seen pandemic surges, and there is potential for a third this year.
“If we have another big surge again, that gives Newsom plenty of time to recognize that we’re still behind the ball, and rescind the order,” Swartzberg said. “If we don’t see that much activity, it would be impossible to argue from a political or public health standpoint that these emergency issues would have to be continued.”
Swartzberg added that once the state of emergency is lifted, the average California resident may see minimal to no changes — its provisions were mainly effective in the public health industry. The Newsom administration also seeks to keep a couple of the norms it establishes, such as the ability of nurses to administer COVID-19 treatment and the ability of laboratory workers to solely process COVID-19 tests.
California’s state of emergency, part of the larger SMARTER plan to guide the state’s response to the pandemic, has helped California become one of the most successful states in the nation at mitigating COVID-19, Swartzberg said. He added that California has done “surprisingly better” than many other states, at the sacrifice of some bureaucratic and individual autonomy.
Looking ahead, Swartzberg noted his main worry is the public reaction if it becomes necessary to reinstate the state of emergency come this winter and spring.
“As we move into this next phase, the infrastructure and processes we’ve invested in and built up will provide us the tools to manage any ups and downs in the future,” said Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, in the press release. “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.”