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Everyone from schoolteachers to health care workers, and parents to restaurant owners wish we could move on from the COVID-19 pandemic. With case numbers dropping in California and vaccination rates rising, now may be the time for that wish to start coming true.
California public health officials certainly think so. They recently announced that the state now knows what works, and has built the necessary tools over the last two years in preparation to face the coronavirus as it evolves.
The “California SMARTER Plan: The Next Phase of California’s COVID-19 Response” addresses the future of the pandemic with an eye on the potential for future surges and new variants. California is the first state to offer a plan to respond to COVID-19 spread as endemic, rather than pandemic.
Endemic spread refers to when disease is consistently present but limited to a particular region, making its spread and rates predictable and usually manageable. Pandemic spread is international and often unmanageable.
“Under the SMARTER Plan, we will use the significant knowledge we have gained and the tools and resources we have developed over the last two years to adapt and respond to whatever is next,” says Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health & Human Services Agency (CalHHS).
Working SMARTER to manage COVID-19
The SMARTER plan considers the evolving conditions of COVID-19, the effective strategies already in place to slow its spread, and new innovations and information to protect California residents. It offers a map to moving forward and meeting the COVID-19 challenges that might arise using evidence-based science and established spread-prevention and treatment tools.
According to CalHHS, each letter of “SMARTER” stands for key elements of the plan:
S is for shots — Vaccines are the most powerful weapon against hospitalization and serious illness, the agency says.
M is for masks — Properly worn masks with good filtration help slow the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.
A is for awareness — The state will continue to stay aware of evolving variants and how COVID-19 is spreading; communicate clearly how people should protect themselves; and coordinate a state and local government response.
R is for readiness — COVID-19 isn’t going away, and everyone should be ready with the tools, resources and supplies needed to quickly respond and keep public health and the health care system well prepared.
T is for testing — Getting the right type of tests (PCR or antigen) to where they are needed most is vital. Testing will help California minimize the spread of COVID-19.
E is for education — California will continue to work to keep schools open and children safely in classrooms for in-person instruction.
R is for Rx (an abbreviation for prescription) — Evolving and improving treatments will become increasingly available and critical as a tool to save lives.
Moving forward, healthy and safe
Crucial elements of the plan include monitoring COVID-19 data and conditions in real time throughout the state to be ready to respond to surges or new variants. This can be accomplished through use of a robust waste-water surveillance and genome sequencing network that can provide early insights into the changing nature of the virus and its variants.
Also, the state will work with federal and local leaders to assess how COVID-19 continues to impact certain individuals and communities and address any inequities. Officials will also monitor health care systems to ensure they are prepared for any changes in case numbers and increased supply, staffing or census needs.
According to Dr. Ghaly, the overall goal of the plan is to keep California ready for what might come next in our future living with COVID-19. Remaining flexible and being prepared will not only make the state better at managing COVID-19, but it will also make the community healthier, keep kids safely in school, support the success of businesses and their employees, and avoid overwhelming our health systems.
“Californians should rest assured, we are ready and prepared to meet any public health challenges that may lie ahead,” Dr. Ghaly says.
Get the latest COVID-19 information on vaccines, testing, getting care and more.
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