SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — California lawmakers in the Assembly Emergency Management Committee put Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 endemic plan — also known as the “SMARTER” plan — under the microscope on Wednesday.
“As California has now seen another rise in COVID-19 cases, the ‘SMARTER’ plan now faces its first major test,” said Assembly Member Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona.
Newsom first introduced the plan in February.
California Department of Public Health Director Tomas Aragon reiterated on Wednesday the plan boosts state surveillance of the virus by monitoring particles in wastewater to try to detect potential surges.
The plan also includes ramping up the state’s supply of masks, vaccine distribution and daily testing capability.
“It is flexible by design, so we can respond quickly as the virus changes,” Aragon explained.
Some local public health officers told lawmakers, that overall, their cities and counties feel more equipped for the next wave of the virus than at the beginning of the pandemic.
Some also criticized the administration’s handling of mask recommendations, which have been strongly encouraged since March, despite varying COVID-19 case rates between then and now.
“When the local case rate was four, I would’ve liked to message that masking had become optional, but I would not have been aligned with state messaging,” said Aimee Sisson, Yolo County Public Health Officer. “When the case rate began rising, I would’ve stepped up my recommendation according to transmission risk. Instead, I’ve been saying all along masks are strongly recommended and people have stopped listening.”
Others noted the healthcare workforce needs help with recruitment and retention, especially those working in public health.
Newsom has proposed providing an additional $200 million to local public health agencies, but some local leaders said that’s not enough.
“But this investment is not enough to counter the long-standing erosion of the public health workforce,” Sisson said.
The hearing comes as California COVID-19 cases climb, with the state-wide positivity rate now at 5% — the highest recorded since February. Experts said that number is likely even higher because it doesn’t account for everyone testing at home.
Newsom’s administration is confident it’s prepared for whatever comes next.
“This infrastructure that we’ve developed helps us for other public health emergencies, beyond COVID,” Aragon said.
Aragon said a state task force will soon gather to analyze how to reduce indoor transmission of the virus and how to improve indoor air quality overall.