California Declares COVID 'Endemic' in Biggest Democratic Virus Shift Yet

California state officials are expected to announce details Thursday of the state's shift to the "endemic" phase of the coronavirus pandemic, in which the state will shift focus to preventing future outbreaks.

The shift comes nearly two years after Gov. Gavin Newsom was the first governor in the U.S. to implement a statewide stay-at-home order. It is a significant milestone in the nation's response to COVID as one of its largest states is declaring that it is preparing to move into a new phase of the pandemic.

"There is no end date, there is no moment where we declare victory," Newsom said at a Thursday press conference. He said the state and the U.S. have learned that the pandemic will not disappear, but can be managed going forward.

Newsom said that his administration's new plan does not necessarily mean that the disease is gone and should not be a concern in an official announcement Thursday afternoon.

"This pandemic won't have a defined end. There's no finish line," he told the Associated Press. Newsom said his administration tried to make "a plan that allows us to be prepared without being paranoid and more alert to what's happening around us without being anxious."

The basis of the new plan is centered around the acronym SMARTER: Shots, Masks, Awareness, Readiness, Testing, Education and Rx, referring to prescriptions and COVID treatments.

State officials will monitor things like wastewater to detect traces of COVID that could be an indicator of an impending outbreak, and the plan will include stockpiles of masks and tests to be deployed to an area of the state an outbreak appears to be at risk of happening, Newsom said.

Contracts for additional emergency health care workers are also part of the plan, allowing them to be sent to areas experiencing a surge in cases, Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of California's Health and Human Services (HHS) Agency said at the press conference. The state will conduct testing to determine if an outbreak is being caused by a new variant and research whether it demonstrates resistance to the proven vaccines or other treatments, the AP reported.

"One of the fundamental lessons we've come to understand is that the disease has evolved and our understanding has to evolve in terms of how we approach it with the kind of flexibility that is required," Newsom told the AP. "We have to prepare for that uncertainty, we have to communicate that uncertainty and this plan is put forth with that in mind."

He also said that the state's plan will involve creating videos and online campaigns to combat misinformation about COVID, vaccines and treatments as well as videos to clarify any public confusion over local health orders or current recommended precautions.

Newsom also called on social media platforms to "do a better job" of patrolling misinformation on their services, and criticized conservative outlets like Fox News, Newsmax and One America News for spreading misinformation about the pandemic, saying people have lost their lives because of the lies spread by several "propaganda machines."

Ghaly said the HHS will also work with local health departments to summarize recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into shorter, more easily understandable formats for the public. He said the goal is to tell people what they should be concerned about and info such as when and where people should wear masks in one or two pages rather than 20-page documents that can be confusing to many.

Andy Slavitt, a former COVID adviser to the Biden administration, also said at the press conference that he believes California's plan will be a model for other states across the country to follow when their state is ready to move to the next phase of COVID response.

Newsom said that the state will announce an update on masking requirements for public schools across California on February 28, an announcement he said will include a specific end date for the requirement.

Newsom said he understands the frustration of parents who still have to send their children to school with masks while they can also see events like the Super Bowl being held where thousands of people are gathered with no masks. However, he cited the state's high vaccination rates for adults with over 70 percent fully vaccinated compared to a 20 percent range for eligible children as a reason why the policy has not yet been changed.

Update 2/17/22, 7:20 p.m. EST: This story has been updated with additional information, context and quotes from Thursday's press conference.

Gavin Newsom California COVID Pandemic Endemic
California Governor Gavin Newsom Thursday will reportedly declare the state of California to be in an "endemic" stage of the COVID pandemic and the state will focus on preventing future outbreaks going forward. Above, Newsom speaks during a bill signing ceremony at Nido's Backyard Mexican Restaurant on February 9, 2022, in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images