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Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled the proposal designed to be more strategic, nimble and sustainable than it is reactive. California is the first in the nation to transition the Coronavirus crisis from a pandemic (a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease over a whole country or the world at a particular time) to an endemic (a disease, maintained at a baseline level, which regularly occurs within an area or community).

Newsom made the plan announcement three days after he lifted the statewide indoor mask mandate. The SMARTER Plan, (an acronym that stands for Shots, Masks, Awareness, Readiness, Testing and Rx), will focus on precautionary measures and interventions rather than broad mandates on masking, sheltering in place or shutdowns.

“We are moving away from a crisis mindset to living with this virus,” said Newsom. “We have come to understand what was not understood at the beginning of this crisis: that there is no ending.”

Andy Slavitt, former Senior Advisor for COVID-19 Response in the Biden administration, says Newsom’s post-pandemic strategy should be a model for states around the country.

“California’s SMARTER plan should represent a turning point in managing the pandemic from taking whatever the virus brings us to being prepared to manage whatever challenges come next,” he said.

Following Newsom’s announcement, California Black Media held a press briefing for the African- American press organized by VaccinateAll58, the California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 response program.

The webinar featured Dr. Jerry Abraham, director of Kedran Vaccines in Inglewood. His health center has been vaccinating residents since Christmas Eve, 2020 and he suggests residents get comfortable as the population transitions from the pandemic to an endemic.

He mentioned that Inglewood had not yet seen any significant COVID-19 fallout from hosting the Super Bowl and Taste of Inglewood activities, which drew thousands of people to the city.

 “We’re continuing to monitor that situation,” Abraham said. “We were concerned about the people who were traveling from different parts of the country… but we have not seen an uptick in infections or hospitalizations.”

The doctor called it a win-win – for local healthcare and for the champion Rams.

“We are learning to live with covid,” Abraham said. “We really are seeing a continued decline in infection rates and hospitalizations. It just goes to show that we all took the recommendations to heart.”

In order to work and play safely in our communities as we go forward, he recommended that residents continue to use hand hygiene strategies; gauge their personal risks and exposure to the virus; get vaccinated; and feel comfortable wearing masks, if they feel there in a high-risk setting.

“I still say keep them handy and wear them when you need to,” Abraham said. “Like on public transportation, or when you are visiting grandma in the nursing home.”

Abraham reiterated that, according to the state’s Department of Public Health, Blacks account for 6 percent of California’s total population, but account for 7 percent of the state’s nearly 82,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

“We need to continue to be vigilant and play our part,” he said. “This is the new normal.” 

Abraham acknowledged that it has been a long two years, and no one is looking forward to a possible fourth shot in the fall to keep the virus at bay, but the only way to move forward is to keep using safety measures.

“I know we’re having covid fatigue and vaccine fatigue, we’ll get through it. We must continue to do our part,” he said “That is how we are going to go about our business and how we are going to go about staying in business and staying in school, going to church – all of these things are a part our strategy to move forward,” he added.

Abraham noted that a part of the governor’s SMARTER program includes equitable access to public health. For example, many in South L.A. may not know that  there are some effective treatments for patients who have acquired covid. Smaller states; hospitals with academic-related medical centers; and wealthier zip code areas may receive treatments first. Local medical centers and pharmacies don’t often have access to these treatments.

“These mean nothing if they don’t get into the arms of people who need them the most,” Abraham said, noting that sick residents should stay at home and not count on unreliable, experimental treatments, which could have serious complications. 

 “I would be more scared of those than the vaccine,” he said. “Vaccines are our best defense. Why would you gamble?”  

Newsom said the state will be analyzing wastewater to track the evolution of the virus.

“As we enter the next phase of the pandemic, the state is better equipped than ever to protect Californians from COVID-19 with smart strategies that save lives and advance our ongoing recovery,” said Newsom. “Building on proven tools – rooted in science and data – that have been honed over the past two years, we’re keeping our guard up with a focus on continued readiness, awareness and flexibility to adapt to the evolving pandemic. As we have throughout the pandemic, the state will continue applying the lessons we’ve learned about the virus to keep California moving forward.”

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