By ADAM BEAM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s coronavirus emergency will officially end in February as Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state has enough resources and plans to manage the pandemic without the need for a formal declaration that gives the governor power to suspend or change laws.
His office made the announcement Monday, saying the delay until next year will give the state’s health care system any flexibility it still needs for a possible winter surge in cases and hospitalizations, and give everyone enough time to prepare for the phaseout.
Newsom declared a state of emergency for the coronavirus on March 4, 2020, shortly after an elderly patient was the first confirmed death from the disease in California — the first of nearly 95,000 deaths in California to date.
Since then, Newsom has used his authority under the emergency declaration to issue 596 orders. Some were small, like delaying deadlines for filing taxes or renewing driver’s licenses. But others were life-changing, including issuing a statewide stay-at-home order that caused millions of people to lose their jobs.
He called the emergency declaration “an effective and necessary tool” but said in a statement that other measures mean it can now be phased out.
“While the threat of this virus is still real, our preparedness and collective work have helped turn this once crisis emergency into a manageable situation,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a statement.
When the state of emergency officially ends at the end of February, that will automatically end all of Newsom’s pandemic-related executive orders. But it will mostly be a symbolic marker for most people, as the majority of those orders have either already expired or been lifted. As of October, just 27 of Newsom’s orders remain in place, according to the governor’s office.
The formal end of the emergency would not affect public health orders, which are issued by state and local public health officers. That includes a statewide mandate that schoolchildren be vaccinated against the coronavirus — a mandate that has been delayed until next summer at the earliest.
Still, Newsom says he will ask state the state Legislature to put two of his orders into law. One would continue to allow nurses to order and dispense certain coronavirus medications, and another would allow laboratory workers to continue processing coronavirus tests.
The emergency orders issued by Newsom, a Democrat, survived a legal challenge by Republican Assemblymen James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley. The California Supreme Court last year left in place a lower court’s ruling that the governor acted within his authority.