California’s State of Emergency Will Continue After the Big Reopening. What Does It Mean?

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s critics are painting it as a power grab, but keeping a state of emergency in effect isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary

On June 15, California’s economy is set to fully reopen, which means no more colored tiers, no more distancing or capacity limits at most businesses, and no more mask mandate in most situations for fully vaccinated people. The state currently has one of the lowest COVID-19 transmission rates in the nation, coming behind only Vermont, according to the CDC. It’s a big, much-anticipated return to some version of normalcy after 15 months of pandemic life in a state that took the crisis more seriously than many.

Even as regulations lift, Governor Gavin Newsom announced last week that the state of emergency that’s been in place since March 4, 2020 will persist after June 15—and, currently, there isn’t a date set for that emergency status to lift. The announcement has given Newsom’s opponents another thing to grouse about, but what exactly does it mean for the state to be in a continued state of emergency?

Basically, the emergency declaration gives Newsom authority to suspend and impose new COVID-19 rules as he sees fit, for instance allowing state workers to shift into contact tracing roles and relaxing criteria for vaccine administration. It also allows the state tap into federal emergency funds.

On Friday, Newsom told a reporter who asked why the state of emergency would continue after June 15: “Because we’re still in a state of emergency. This disease is still in effect. It is not taking the summer off.”

As the New York Times explains, a state of emergency persisting after an event is also pretty standard. It’s been years since the Camp fire ravaged Butte County, but the emergency declaration associated with the disaster is still in effect as cleanup and rebuilding efforts continue.

As Alex Pal of the Office of Emergency Services told the Times, “The emergency doesn’t stop after a wildfire is contained. After an earthquake, the emergency doesn’t stop after the shaking ends.”

The pro-recall crowd is painting it as both a bait-and-switch and a power grab. Several California Republicans issued a letter to Newsom threatening to use the legislature’s power to end the state of emergency, citing a rule that says “the Governor shall proclaim the termination of a state of emergency at the earliest possible date that conditions warrant.”

While it may seem like California is out of the woods, Newsom is leaving open the possibility that a time will come when he needs to use his emergency powers.

“Some modifications may need to be in order on the basis of changing conditions,” he said.

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