California Gov Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that his state - which has been among those with the strictest mandates during the pandemic - will soon transition into treating COVID-19 as an endemic, moving on from the pandemic as the state marks two years since the first cases of the virus were detected in the U.S.
The decision comes as daily infections crater in the Golden state, and much of the rest of the nation. Cases in California have dropped 74 percent over the past two weeks and only 37 of every 100,000 residents are testing positive for the virus daily. It is one of 50 U.S. states recording a drop in daily infections over that period.
Nationwide, cases are down 43 percent over the past week, down to 118,360 per day from 210,557 a week ago. The U.S. is now a month removed from the peak of the Omicron wave in mid-January, where cases reached heights of 800,000 per day. In the time since, daily infections have cratered and fallen more than 80 percent.
'We are moving past the crisis phase into a phase where we will work to live with this virus,' Newsom said at a news conference announcing the 'Smarter' plan on Thursday.
'People are looking forward to turning the page,' he added. 'They also need to know we have their back, we're going to keep them safe, and we're going to stay on top of this.'
He said that part of the plan going forward will include building a stockpile of masks, Covid tests, and other supplies that can be easily distributed if case start to sharply rise again. Quick distribution of these goods would assist in preventing the need for lockdowns or other serious mandates to deal with rises in Covid infections.
California will also dedicate more resources towards combatting COVID-19 misinformation in an effort to increase vaccination rates.
'This pandemic won't have a defined end. There's no finish line... there is no end date,' Newsom said, noting that humans will likely have to live with, and manage, the existence of this virus for much of the rest of their lives.
California Gov Gavin Newsom (pictured) announced at a news conference Thursday that his state - the most populous in America - would soon transition into considering Covid as an 'endemic' rather than 'pandemic'
California is now the first U.S. state to declare the virus 'endemic', and the nations most populous state now joins a growing list that have begun to rollback mandates as cases continue to decline.
Last week, the Newson rolled back indoor mask mandates for people that are fully vaccinated against Covid.
This week, new Virginia Gov Glenn Youngkin is pushing his state's legislators to end required masks in schools on March 1.
The Republican, who won last year's election in a surprise upset over former Gov Terry McAullife, made school issues like masking a key part of his campaign platform last year.
Vermont Gov Phil Scott, also a Republican in a state generally considered to be 'blue', announced Tuesday that any school that has a student vaccination rate of 80 percent or higher was allowed to lift mask mandates as well. Masks will likely be removed from all indoor public spaces in the near future as well.
'Although we remain optimistic about the trends we're seeing in Vermont, we're not ready to jump to a recommendation of removal of masks altogether, but I expect that recommendation will be coming at some point,' Dan French, the state's education secretary, said.
The two states join more than a half-dozen others that chose to either relax or lift entirely their mask orders last week in the wake of declining Covid case basically everywhere in America.
Federal leaders have been hesitant to follow, though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends universal masking in public schools and requires people to wear masks when traveling on planes and trains.
Officials opened the door to lifting restrictions soon during a press briefing on Wednesday, though. White House Covid response Coordinator Jeff Zients indicated that the federal government is already looking to life beyond Covid.
'As a result of all this progress and the tools we all have, we're moving toward a time when Covid isn't a crisis but is something we can protect against and treat,' Zients said.
'The president and our Covid team are actively planning for this future.'
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, did not indicate at the briefing that her agency planned to change guidelines soon, though there are reports that it is being considered and changes could come as early as next week.
'We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,' Walensky explained.
'If and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly. And it will be based on the data and the science.
One of the key metrics being monitored by the CDC is daily deaths from the virus, a figure that is finally starting to decline after lagging behind cases for a long period of time. The U.S. is averaging 2,219 Covid deaths every day, an eight percent drop over the past week.
Daily Covid cases are dropping in all 50 states over the past two weeks, as of Friday morning. Nebraska is recording the largest decrease, with cases down 82 percent over the past two weeks.
Cases are down by more than 50 percent in 44 states. Only one state, Kentucky, is still recording more than 100 daily cases per every 100,000 residents, at 111.
The number of states recording more than one daily Covid death per 100,000 residents has shrunk to six as well. Each are also among those with the lowest vaccination rates in America.
Tennessee is once again the leader in Covid mortality, with the Volunteer state recording 1.5 daily deaths per 100,000 residents. Only 53 percent of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated.
Other states among the leaders in Covid mortality include West Virginia (1.43 deaths per 100,000 residents; 57 percent vaccination rate), Arkansas (1.41;53), Mississippi (1.35; 51), Oklahoma (1.23; 56) and South Carolina (1.07;55).