Marking a shift in the battle against COVID-19, state officials Thursday announced a framework based on the idea that the virus will be an continuing presence, and moving California into an ongoing state of readiness to address localized outbreaks and respond to potential new variants of the virus — while trying to give residents at least a sense of normalcy.
“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 outlined the tenants of what the state is dubbing the “SMARTER” plan, the next phase of its response to COVID-19, moving beyond the pandemic and more into an “endemic” stage in which residents will learn to co-exist with a stubborn virus.
The plan 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.
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. The overall theme is one of preparedness, he 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.
“It’s going to give us confidence on how to move about not in fear any longer but with a sense that we at the state are going to have everyone’s back, giving good information that’s clear and allow them (residents) to do many of the things that maybe they’ve put on hold, which they’re just starting to get to do and do it with confidence,” he said. “And that also includes being able to tell folks when we’re seeing something of concern.”