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California announces pandemic state of emergency to end, San Diego County likely to follow suit

The pandemic is becoming more manageable, according to health officials. Tuesday Gov. Gavin Newsom announced California's state of emergency will end next February and San Diego County officials echoed that sentiment.

"I agree with the Governor that it is time to prepare to end the state of emergency," said San Diego County Board of Supervisor's Chair Nathan Fletcher in a statement Wednesday. "While the last few years have been very tough, we should be proud that our county has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest COVID death rates in the country."

State officials said they made the announcement now to give health systems time to prepare and deal with another potential winter COVID-19 surge.

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"Certainly you can't continue a state of emergency perpetually," said UC San Diego Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris Longhurst. "So in our new normal we do think we’re prepared."
Longhurst said he is not forecasting a huge impact with the state set to lift the emergency response. He said one point there were over 500 emergency orders and waivers issued to keep health systems running, but now there are just a couple dozen left.

"I think it’s really important to understand the federal state of emergency does continue and it’s under the federal health emergency that Medi-Cal waivers and tele-care waivers continue."

Secretary of California's Health and Human Services Agency Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday the threat COVID-19 poses is still real, but the crisis situation is now manageable. Longhurst said it is clear to him that we’re moving to an endemic stage.

"Which means this virus is going to be with us for a while and people who are immunocompromised or elderly or otherwise high risk should maintain that vigilance," Longhurst said. "For the rest of us it’s like the winter flu and it's something that's going to be here every winter, but it's probably going to be decreasingly impactful. Particularly as more people become vaccinated."

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San Diego County health officials said the announcement does not change what they are doing now. Vaccines and testing remain available. Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten expects the county to end its local state of emergency at the same time as the state. She points to low daily case counts.

"Our numbers currently for this last week averaged 230-250 —
manageable — and that’s getting better," Wooten said.

Wooten notes over the last six months county staff have been moving more pandemic operations to clinics and decreasing the frequency of reported data. Health officials are preparing for some type of winter surge in COVID and flu cases. Wooten hopes it does not impact this February timeline.

"Things might happen where the numbers might increase where that might not be possible," she said. "So we don’t have a crystal ball, but that is the intention."

With the state of emergency eventually going away, the governor does want the legislature to do two things: continue to allow nurses to deliver COVID therapeutics and maintain lab workers solely focused on testing efforts.

The state health department also said this week mask requirements in health care facilities, long term care settings and senior centers will continue throughout the winter.

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