Perhaps you heard the announcement this week that President Biden plans to end the nation’s Covid public health emergency in May, signaling that the pandemic has moved into a less dire phase.
California’s version is set to end even sooner.
The state’s coronavirus emergency declaration will expire on Feb. 28, almost three years after it began. It gave Gov. Gavin Newsom broad power to issue mandates intended to slow the spread of the virus, as well as to bypass certain state laws. He announced in October that he would end the emergency in February, and a spokesperson from his office confirmed on Wednesday that that’s still his plan.
The sunsetting of the emergency declaration, which has been the basis for more than 500 legal and policy measures in California, reflects a shift in how state officials are approaching the pandemic, experts say. Newsom released a statewide plan last year that calls for treating the virus as a manageable risk, as opposed to a crisis.
The coronavirus is still killing about 40 people a day in California, and is infecting people at the level of a “very bad flu season,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, an epidemiologist at U.C.L.A. But the state seems to have avoided a catastrophic winter surge, and reports of new cases have been falling in recent weeks. Three-fourths of all Californians have received at least an initial vaccination against the virus.
So more than ever in California, the virus has become something we live with, as scientists in the early days of the pandemic predicted that it eventually would. Health experts still strongly advise staying up-to-date on vaccines and boosters, and wearing a mask in high-risk environments, but they aren’t as quick to recommend many other behavioral changes that were once considered necessary.
Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director, recently said that she had started eating indoors at restaurants — for the first time since the pandemic began. Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of U.C.S.F.’s department of medicine, has said that the recent case rates are low enough in the Bay Area that indoor dining feels tolerable, though he’s still wearing a KN-95 mask when grocery shopping.
“I want to live as fully as I can, but am comfortable taking reasonable steps to avoid infection,” Wachter said on Twitter.
The coronavirus is unlikely to burn out altogether, and it’s possible that the emergence of new variants could lead to another big surge, Brewer told me. But for now, he said, the virus seems likely to follow a pattern similar to influenza — circulating year-round and peaking in the colder months.
“I think the way you think about Covid going forward is, you don’t let Covid determine your life — life goes on, even though Covid is out there,” Brewer said. He thinks it’s unlikely that we’ll ever be totally done with Covid. Still, he said, “there does seem to be this need to bring about closure, even though the virus isn’t going anywhere.”
As for the statewide emergency declaration, Newsom’s administration said it would seek legislative approval to make two of the emergency provisions permanent: allowing nurses to continue to dispense Covid medications like Paxlovid, and allowing lab workers to process Covid-19 tests on their own.
More on California
In the Wake of Tragedy: California is reeling after back-to-back mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay.Fast-Food Industry: A law creating a council with the authority to set wages and improve the conditions of fast-food workers was halted after business groups submitted enough signatures to place the issue before voters next year.Medical Misinformation: A federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of a new law allowing regulators to punish doctors for spreading false or misleading information about Covid-19.Oil From the Amazon: If you live in California, you may have a closer connection to oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest than you think.
“With the public health infrastructure and operational preparedness built up throughout the pandemic, the state has the tools needed to continue protecting Californians when the state of emergency terminates,” Danella Debel, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email.
Carmela Coyle, head of the California Hospital Association, said she hoped the governor would further delay the expiration of the state of emergency, at least until May, when the federal emergency is set to end. She said that many hospitals in the state were full or beyond capacity — in part because of pent-up demand for surgery and other treatments that were delayed over the past few years — and that they were struggling with staffing shortages.
The emergency rules have allowed hospitals to create temporary treatment spaces to cope with the large number of patients, and to hire workers from out of state to help treat those patients.
“February is a terrible time to end the public health emergency,” Coyle told me. “The discontinuation of those declarations of emergency has to be thoughtfully planned and transitioned. Otherwise, it leaves hospitals caught in the middle in this debate of whether the pandemic is over or not.”
What the end of the federal public health emergency could mean for you.
Check Covid case rates in California.
What to know about the XBB.1.5. variant.
ImageWalter Fernandez moved irrigation pipes on an alfalfa field in Rio Vista last year.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
The rest of the news
Drought: An environmental advocacy group is asking for limits on almond and alfalfa crops because they rely on significant amounts of water in drought-stricken California, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Colorado River: California released a new plan for how Western states could conserve between one million and nearly two million acre-feet of Colorado River water, one day after six other states made a competing proposal, The Associated Press reports.
Profit caps: Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling for a first-in-the-nation cap on oil industry profits, Politico reports.
Four-day school week: Why aren’t shortened school weeks more popular in California? EdSource looks at why they haven’t caught on.
Book bans: An Orange County school district shut down a library app that provided digital access to books after a parent raised concerns about a story in which a male polar bear asks to marry a male seal, Voice of OC reports.
Misconduct investigation: As investigations at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla continue, the acting warden has been moved out of the prison after being accused of misconduct, The Fresno Bee Reports.
Self-driving cars: Companies like Waymo and Cruise hope to widen their projects in San Francisco, but local officials are increasingly concerned about breakdowns causing congestion.
Tech layoff: PayPal’s parent company will lay off about 7 percent of its work force, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
ImageCredit…Bobbi Lin for The New York Times.
What we’re eating
White bean rice and dill soup.
ImageA flock of snow geese wade in a lake at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.Credit…Phil Schermeister/Getty Images
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Janice Gagerman, who recommends a trip to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour north of Sacramento:
“This time of year, the snow geese and other birds use the rice fields, which are filled with rainwater, to roost, and then fly away at sunset. Their flights are simply gorgeous, as is watching different species of birds.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we’re recommending
13 new books coming in February.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, we’re asking about love: not who you love, but what you love about your corner of California.
Email us a love letter to your California city, neighborhood or region — or to the Golden State as a whole — and we may share it in an upcoming newsletter. You can reach the team at [email protected]
ImageCredit…Nic Coury/Associated Press
And before you go, some good news
The population of Western monarch butterflies wintering along the California coast has rebounded for the second year in a row after a precipitous drop in 2020, researchers announced this week.
Volunteers who visited sites in California and Arizona around Thanksgiving tallied more than 330,000 butterflies, the highest number of these insects counted in the last six years. It was a promising rebound after the annual winter count in 2020 recorded fewer than 2,000 butterflies, The Associated Press reports.
“I think we can all celebrate, and this is really exciting,” said Emma Pelton, a conservation biologist at the Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Isabella Grullón Paz and Allison Honors contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected]
Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.