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Newsom ends some COVID-19 executive orders while maintaining emergency powers

Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo
A second-grade student is given an at-home COVID-19 test at H.W. Harkness Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif., on Feb. 11, 2022.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that he would end a number of executive orders related to the state's pandemic response, but keep the long-running state of emergency declaration in place and the powers that come with it.

In a press briefing, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the emergency powers are still necessary to allow the state to respond to the uncertain future of the pandemic, even as cases continue to drop from the height of the omicron surge.

"The ability to have the flexibility and provisions that we highlighted today, I think really helped us prevent what might be more easily anticipated and expected challenges ahead from becoming full-on emergencies and hard situations for Californians and communities across the state," Ghaly said.

According to the governor's office, Newsom has signed 561 proclamations through 70 executive orders related to COVID-19.

As of Thursday, 82 of those provisions were still in place. Newsom announced that 19 would expire immediately, with another 31 scheduled to expire between now and the end of June. State officials said the remaining executive orders will focus mainly on COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, retaining hospital capacity and workplace safety rules.

Last week, Newsom released details about the so-called SMARTER plan, another executive order that focuses more on preparing for future outbreaks than restrictions based on case counts or other hard metrics, and calls for a stockpile of 75 million masks, 30 million over-the-counter tests, thousands of ventilators, and 3,000 additional healthcare staff in case of case and hospital surges.

Newsom's ability to issue the executive orders stems from the state emergency services act, which was invoked by the COVID-19 state of emergency that has been in place since 2020.

A state of emergency is a government declaration that allows public officials to change usual operations and order actions to respond to an unfolding crisis. It also helps the state government access federal aid, unlock certain state resources and work with county and local officials to coordinate emergency responses on a regional level.

Under the emergency, Newsom was able to broker deals for millions of masks early in the pandemic at a time when states were scrambling to obtain personal protective equipment from the federal government and other markets. But he also awarded a number of no-bid contracts of up to a billion dollars. A series of CapRadio investigations found that some of those contracts went to Newsom donors — something that government ethics experts said could raise red flags despite no evidence to suggest wrongdoing.

There have been repeated calls by Republican lawmakers to end the state of emergency at different points during the pandemic, with one likely to be heard by the state Legislature next month.

State Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins (D–San Diego) announced last week that a resolution to terminate the COVID-19 state of emergency would get its first hearing March 15.The decision came after mounting pressure from the state’s Republicans who have been pushing the Newsom administration to end the state of emergency that was declared in March 2020.

GOP lawmakers argued that since Los Angeles hosted 70,000 people at the Super Bowl earlier this month, the emergency was no longer necessary.

Friday's announcement comes a week after California's statewide indoor mask mandate expired, with many counties immediately following the state's lead and ending their own mask requirements. Los Angeles announced this week it would also drop its mandate, though Santa Clara County still requires masks indoors for all residents.

Ghaly also announced last week the state would not end its mask mandate for K-12 schools, but would reevaluate the rules Feb. 28.

Since then a number of small districts — including some in El Dorado and Placer counties — announced they would stop enforcing the mask mandate at their schools. Some teachers at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley stayed home on Thursday to protest a decision by their school board to make masks optional, resulting in the school closing for the day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also announced it would loosen it's guidelines for mask wearing, saying 70% of Americans now live in areas where it's safe to be indoors without a mask.

Chris Hagan is the Managing Editor, Digital Content for CapRadio.
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