California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday a long-term strategy for COVID-19 centered around monitoring new variants and stockpiling resources while expecting disease transmission to continue.
The plan, dubbed SMARTER, was unveiled a day after the state’s indoor mask mandate was lifted and comes as case counts in Alameda County and across the U.S. have dropped. The plan aims to make the state responsive to a virus that may stay “for some time, if not forever.”
“Building on proven tools – rooted in science and data – that have been honed over the past two years, we’re keeping our guard up with a focus on continued readiness, awareness and flexibility to adapt to the evolving pandemic,” Newsom said in a press release.
Key components of the plan include maintaining the ability to administer 200,000 vaccines and 500,000 tests a day, as well as reserving a supply of 75 million masks.
Another component of the plan increases efforts to monitor COVID-19 and determine if new variants of the virus are circulating in the state. These efforts include maintaining wastewater and respiratory testing, as well as continuing to genome sequence at least 10% of positive COVID-19 tests in California.
Lee Riley, chair of the division of infectious disease and vaccinology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, emphasized the importance of monitoring new COVID-19 variants and the need to “be vigilant” about them. Riley pointed to the emergence of BA.2, a subvariant of the omicron variant that is spreading in Denmark, and cited research that suggests it is more pathogenic and transmissible among animals.
“Any variant that appears anywhere in the world will come to the U.S., guaranteed,” Riley said. “That is something to watch out for.”
However, Riley noted that SMARTER has “all the right elements” and hopes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will recommend a similar strategy for the entire country.
As of press time, the city of Berkeley has not addressed how it would respond to the new state-level strategy.
Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn said in an email her district will rely on the COVID-19 recommendations made by the city’s health officer based on data, science and what will ensure the safety of the community.
But Hahn also noted the possibility of relaxing pandemic mandates in the future given high vaccination rates. Approximately 74% of the state’s population over 5 years of age is currently fully vaccinated, according to California’s online COVID-19 data tracker.
“I am cautiously optimistic that, with high levels of immunization and continued vigilance to follow health directives, we will be able to continue easing masking and possibly other requirements,” Hahn said in the email.
Contact Annika Constantino and Farhan Hossain at [email protected].