UC Davis Health infectious disease experts share what the end of the State of Emergency means for Californians
Today marks the end of California’s COVID-19 State of Emergency. The declaration gave Governor Gavin Newsom broader powers to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Its end suggests the pandemic is entering a less serious phase.
What does the end of the State of Emergency mean for Californians? How will it affect our everyday lives? We posed these questions to infectious disease specialists at UC Davis Health: Stuart H. Cohen, chief of infectious diseases; Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases; and Natascha Tuznik, associate clinical professor of infectious diseases.
Here are their answers.
How worried should people be about COVID-19 right now?
Blumberg: “At this point in the pandemic, most people have some sort of immunity to COVID from vaccination or infection — or both. The risk of severe disease is less at this point, but it’s not zero. COVID is becoming more like influenza, or flu. Most people who are not at high risk will be inconvenienced if infected, but the risk of hospitalization or death is low. Of course, remember that 12,000 to 52,000 influenza deaths occur in the U.S. every year, so vaccination for both COVID and flu remains important.”
Cohen: “That could still happen. We need to start living like COVID will be with us forever. That means high-risk people should be cautious and get vaccinated.”
Tuznik: “We hear stories about people looking to get COVID infections and ‘just getting it over with.’ It is important to remember that the risk of COVID infection comes with the possibility of long COVID, so it is not just as ‘simple’ as getting over a common cold. COVID could come with detrimental long-term consequences – including some that are still unknown.”
So, we should continue to mask?
Blumberg: “Depending on your and your family’s risk factors, some may wish to keep wearing masks in high-risk situations. Those situations might include being indoors with those who don’t live in your household. I continue to recommend masking for prolonged indoor exposures, such as air travel.”
Will care teams and patients still wear masks in clinic settings?
Tuznik: “Yes, we still need to wear masks in patient care areas, at least for the time being. Patients are still instructed to wear masks at our clinics.”
Blumberg: “The masking requirements in patient care areas will be influenced by federal and state public health guidance. It makes sense to me to continue in clinical settings.”
How important is it to stay home from work or school when feeling sick?
Blumberg: “I hope that one important lesson learned from the pandemic is an appreciation for not coming to work or school when potentially contagious with COVID or other infection.”
Tuznik: “Absolutely important. At UC Davis Health, employees are still expected to report symptoms, test and stay home based on guidance from our Employee Health Services.”
How important are COVID vaccines and boosters at this point?
Blumberg: “Vaccines have helped to end the pandemic and save lives. Studies show that through November 2022, COVID vaccines saved more than 18 million lives in the U.S.”
Cohen: “Vaccines will be important in limiting the severity of the illness, less so in preventing infection.”
What does the end of the emergency mean for our day-to-day lives?
Blumberg: “This is a return to common-sense prevention of getting sick. It will still be important to stay home if you’re sick, avoid people who have symptoms, mask in high-risk situations, and wash your hands. If infected, patients can contact their health care provider if they wish to lessen the risk of severe infection by taking antiviral therapy.”
Were there positive lessons during the pandemic?
Tuznik: “A ‘good’ thing to come out of the pandemic is more awareness about personal and public infection prevention measures. This includes good, thorough handwashing in addition to the strong emphasis on vaccines — and not just against COVID.”
Blumberg: “Telehealth services, such as video visits, have made connecting with health care providers more convenient. This has been especially important for those who don’t live close to a doctor’s office or hospital. Many people have enjoyed working remotely. Importantly, I hope that we all appreciate the work of our public health officials.”
Cohen: “Remote meetings allow inclusion of more people. However, the downside to this is that seeing people on a screen is not seeing people in real life. As for the pandemic response, it’s easy to take shots in retrospect. But remember that over one million Americans died. Even if every step taken by the decision makers in health care wasn’t perfect, it was to save people’s lives. Health care workers took many risks. We did the best we all could do.”