What Newsom really means ending the COVID state of emergency

Govt. Gavin Newsom will end california COVID-19[feminine] emergency state in February 2023 and relinquish the emergency powers he has held for more than two years, the governor’s office announced this week.

The statewide indoor mask mandate in place during last winter’s surge of omicron variants was actually issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and, in November last year, the California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr Mark Ghaly told SFGATE that the CRPD could implement mask mandates even in the absence of an emergency declaration.

Ghaly argued that a line in California’s health and safety code that reads: “Upon being notified by a health officer of any contagious, infectious, or communicable disease, the department may take such action as is necessary to determine the nature of the disease and prevent its spread,” gives the CRPD sweeping powers that could survive legal challenges to warrants issued in the absence of an emergency declaration.

So in theory, yes, California could easily bring back statewide restrictions like mask mandates in the future, even without a state of emergency. Still, it’s worth pointing out that the state issued no restrictions in the spring and summer of 2022 — even though the BA.2 and BA.5 omicron subvariants did cause case rates to rise — which suggests the bar for new statewide restrictions is much higher. than before.

The end of California’s state of emergency will likely have its most significant impact on the daily lives of Californians at the county level. During the pandemic, county health workers were able to put restrictions in place without the approval of elected officials, thanks to a separate provision of the California Health and Safety Code which grants them broad policy-making powers when a national or local emergency declaration is in place.

This means that when California’s state of emergency ends, county-level emergency declarations will be all that’s left to give that authority to county health workers. And these declarations can be lifted at any time by local elected officials. Over the past year, some of the county’s most aggressive health workers – Los Angeles County’s Barbara Ferrer, Sara Cody from Santa Clara County and Nicholas Moss of Alameda County– took the heat from local politicians questioning the wisdom of some of their restrictions, suggesting there could well be conflict without the state of emergency declaration in place.

If counties follow the state’s lead and end emergency declarations, local health workers will suddenly lose the powers they’ve held for more than two years. And because those local health workers have been far more likely to issue restrictions than the state has recently been, that’s the most tangible potential consequence of Newsom’s move.

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