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California will end COVID-19 state of emergency in 2023 – if there’s not a surge

Patrons wear face masks as they enter the Hollywood & Highland Shopping Center in Los Angeles, Friday, March 4, 2022.
Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo
Patrons wear face masks as they enter the Hollywood & Highland Shopping Center in Los Angeles, Friday, March 4, 2022.

California officials will wind down the remaining provisions of its COVID-19 state of emergency early next year, barring a massive winter surge or new vaccine-resistant variant.

In a news release, Governor Gavin Newsom called the state of emergency an “effective and necessary tool that we utilized to protect our state.”

“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,” he said.

Senior officials in Newsom’s administration say the end of the emergency order will not mean the end of the threat from COVID-19, or the end of California’s ability to fight it. But it will mark a new chapter in state government’s response to the pandemic, which has taken the lives of more than 95,000 residents since early 2020, when it began circulating in California.

Officials say the end of the emergency order is largely a legal and technical milestone which will likely not make a noticeable difference in the lives of Californians. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state’s response to the pandemic has left it prepared for “whatever comes next.”

“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,” Ghaly said in a statement. “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.”

Officials also point out many earlier emergency provisions related to the pandemic have already sunset. Of 596 total provisions stemming from more than 70 pandemic-related emergency orders, the administration says only 27 remain active.

Newsom wants to terminate the rest of them at the end of February 2023. But senior officials say that deadline could be extended if hospitals become overwhelmed this winter or if a new variant begins spreading that overcomes immunity from previous infections or the latest booster vaccines.

The governor is asking state lawmakers to codify two remaining provisions of the emergency order to allow nurses to distribute COVID-19 treatments such as the medication Paxlovid, and more laboratory workers to process COVID-19 tests.

The officials say the state has built up the necessary infrastructure to continue to respond to COVID-19 and other potential pandemics, including hospitals’ ability to quickly staff up during surges or other times of need.

Newsom proclaimed the state of emergency on March 4, 2020, with an order that gave his administration more power and flexibility to fight the pandemic. He has since issued more executive actions under the emergency order.

California’s drawn-out state of emergency has at times ignited political tensions. Two Republican lawmakers sued the governor, saying he overstepped his authority during the pandemic, though state courts eventually sided with Newsom. Other attempts by GOP lawmakers to end the pandemic state of emergency legislatively were rejected.

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