Continuing the state’s phased rollback of executive orders implemented in response to the pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom took action this week to lift all but five percent of COVID-19 related executive order provisions, while maintaining critical measures that support the state’s ongoing response and recovery efforts.
It could bring an end to most indoor masking, including in schools, by mid-month. Though the state will “strongly recommend” the masking continue on campuses, schools can decide to discontinue the mandate.
The remaining provisions include maintaining California’s nation-leading testing and vaccination programs and protecting hospital and health facility capacity, key components of the state’s SMARTER Plan to guide California’s evolving pandemic response with a focus on continued readiness, awareness and flexibility.
“California’s early and decisive measures to combat COVID-19 have saved countless lives throughout the pandemic, and as the recent Omicron surge made clear, we must remain prepared to quickly and effectively respond to changing conditions in real time,” said Governor Newsom. “As we move the state’s recovery forward, we’ll continue to focus on scaling back provisions while maintaining essential testing, vaccination and health care system supports that ensure California has the needed tools and flexibility to strategically adapt our response for what lies ahead.”
Prior to recent action, only 15 percent of COVID executive actions remained in effect, in keeping with the process the Governor established in June 2021 to scale back provisions as they cease to be necessary.
Under the order signed by the Governor, 19 of the remaining provisions are terminated immediately, with an additional 18 to be lifted on March 31 and 15 to expire on June 30 to ensure that impacted individuals and entities have time to prepare for the changes.
As part of the state’s SMARTER Plan, the Governor will continue this focus on lifting additional provisions as they are no longer needed for the ongoing pandemic response.
“California’s health care delivery system remains deeply strained because of the pandemic,” said Carmela Coyle, President & CEO of the California Hospital Association. “Hospital capacity is still stretched beyond normal as people who delayed needed care are now being seen and 20 percent of health care workers have left the field. Today’s extension of certain key, temporary flexibilities means that hospitals can continue to use things like tents to receive and triage patients and retain out-of-state health care personnel to maximize care capacity throughout the state.”
Seventeen of the executive actions still in effect remain critical to bolstering the state’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs and preventing potential strain on the health care delivery system, including:
· COVID Testing – Four provisions provide flexibility critical to support the state’s testing program, which under the SMARTER Plan will need to continue being able to process at least 500,000 tests per day. For example, through executive action the Governor has waived a provision that would require a health care professional to review each test result before it was released electronically to patients, and expanded scopes of practice for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to conduct COVID tests.
· Vaccinations and Boosters – Two provisions provide critical flexibility to support the state’s vaccination and booster programs, which under the SMARTER Plan will need to continue being able to distribute at least 200,000 doses per day. This includes waiving licensing requirements temporarily to enable pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to administer COVID vaccines and waiving requirements so that the state can offer mobile vaccine clinics.
· Protecting Hospital Capacity and Vulnerable Populations – There are 11 provisions that are necessary to protect both capacity in the state’s health care delivery system and vulnerable populations, particularly during COVID surges. This includes provisions allowing health care workers from out of state to provide services in California and enabling the Department of Developmental Services to provide remote and expanded nonresidential services for more clients.
“Telehealth services have been an important component of care during the pandemic, enabling patient access to safe non-emergency medical appointments,” said California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes, M.D. “Extending the Executive Order ensures patients can continue to access expedited health care services by aligning California and federal telehealth policy while we continue to navigate.”
The other 13 remaining provisions ensure COVID workplace safety standards remain aligned with the most current public health guidance and evidence, and provide important flexibility to state and local agencies to administer the emergency response while the state of emergency remains open.
“Skilled nursing facilities in California are in the midst of the worst workforce shortage in their history,” said California Association of Health Facilities President and CEO Craig Cornett. “The Governor’s actions today to continue some flexibilities should help the sector continue to provide quality care to patients and residents.”
Governor Newsom also signed a proclamation terminating 12 open states of emergency related to various fires, heat waves and other incidents dating back to 2015.
Since the onset of the pandemic, California has led the nation’s fight against COVID-19 with public health efforts that have administered more than 71 million COVID-19 vaccines, contributed to California’s maintaining one of the lowest death rates among large states and made the state a national leader in preventing school closures. Building on lessons learned over the past two years and the state’s ongoing commitment to equity, Governor Newsom in February unveiled the SMARTER Plan, which outlines the state’s strategic approach to managing the next phase of the pandemic with core pillars and preparedness metrics based on proven strategies used to successfully slow the spread of the virus and protect Californians. Last year’s budget appropriated $1.7 billion to combat COVID-19 in fiscal year 2021-22. Now, Governor Newsom’s $3.2 billion COVID-19 Emergency Response Package, including $1.9 billion in early action funding that has already been approved, will help bolster the state’s ongoing vaccination and testing efforts, support workers, strengthen the health care system and combat misinformation.