Courtesy of Richard Schneider via Flickr under CC BY NC 2.0

Just four months ago, California weathered the largest wave of coronavirus infections ever, averaging at roughly 110,000 cases per day for a period of time. We’re clearly still in a pandemic, despite what some officials are declaring. Since March, COVID cases have remained comparably low. Amid this relative calm, the state has removed nearly all protective measures against COVID-19. Indoor mask mandates are gone, testing protocols have become more lax and the state government is parroting post-pandemic rhetoric. These moves are woefully misguided, and illustrate California’s failed COVID strategy. 

Los Angeles is in many ways a microcosm of the state as a whole. Originally instating a mask mandate in April 2020, LA County has undergone cycles of phasing out the mandate in times of relatively low case numbers and reinstating the mandate when cases begin to spike. This creates a perpetual and confusing cycle of installing and removing precautions. When precautions are removed, it allows for COVID to spread easily, and when precautions are reinstated, it’s an unexpected inconvenience. In order to meaningfully deal with a pandemic as infectious as COVID, we need to keep constant pressure.

According to the LA Times, California now averages roughly 5,000 new cases of COVID per day. This is a whopping 85% increase since last month. It’s unclear how much of California’s current rise in cases can be attributed to easing restrictions, but these decisions certainly play a role. Combined with a more infectious BA.2.12.1 strain of Omicron, California could face a large COVID outbreak in the near future. 

California, and more broadly the United States, needs a coherent plan against the coronavirus. Under Trump, initial containment was slow, and every move felt like a self-aggrandizing power trip on the part of the ex-president. But even under more competent leadership like in California, or federally, the United States still lags behind the rest of the developed world in some key metrics. As we pass 1 million COVID deaths in the United States, we need to reconsider our strategy.