LOS ANGELES - California Governor Gavin Newsom presented a plan on Thursday to confront COVID-19 beyond its pandemic phase, focusing on readiness, vigilance and vaccines as the nation's most populous state moves from a crisis approach to "living with this virus."
Highlights of the strategy include more stockpiling of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), a "myth-busters" campaign to counter disinformation, and greater wastewater virus surveillance to stay ahead of new outbreaks and new variants.
The plan also calls for maintaining a capacity to administer at least 500,000 screening tests and 200,000 vaccines a day, along with a shift in messaging urging the public to stay current on its booster shots.
Other key elements include a 25% increase in school-based inoculation sites and a major expansion of the state's healthcare and human services workforce.
"What we're announcing here today is about turning the page, moving ... from a crisis mindset to living with this virus," Newsom said, speaking at a PPE warehouse in San Bernardino, east of Los Angeles.
While the plan signals a "move out of the pandemic phase", the governor added: "We're not walking away from this virus, because the virus continues to change and mutate".
Newsom, saying California is the first state to formulate a comprehensive post-pandemic strategy, also stressed the plan was designed to pay special attention to communities of color and the working poor, which have borne the brunt of the pandemic and remain the most vulnerable.
The latest approach comes nearly two years after California, home to some 40 million people, became the first to impose statewide stay-at-home orders and mandatory business closures at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020.
Since then, restrictions on social and economic life throughout the country have eased and tightened through various waves of the virus that have killed more than 82,000 Californians and claimed well over 900,000 lives nationwide.
California joined several states earlier this month in announcing plans to roll back mask mandates for schools and other public places in the coming weeks as a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant loosened its grip.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's health and human services secretary, said the change reflects declining case loads and higher levels of immunity in a state where 75% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated and many have contracted the virus.
The federal government is moving in the same direction. On Wednesday, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, told reporters the Biden administration was shifting from a crisis mode to a phase where "this is something we can protect against and treat."
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; 310-491-7256; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))