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California Aims to Fully Reopen for ‘Business as Usual’ by June 15

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Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the media in Los Angeles on April 1, 2021. California will fully reopen its economy by June 15, contingent on several factors being met, Newsom announced Tuesday.  (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid plummeting COVID-19 case rates and a major spike in vaccinations, California plans to lift most coronavirus restrictions on businesses and workplaces by June 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.

“We can confidently say by June 15 that we can start to open up business as as usual, subject to ongoing mask-wearing and ongoing vigilance,” Newsom said during a press conference at the City College of San Francisco Ocean Campus vaccination site. “So this is a big day.”

But for that reopening plan to happen, he said, the vaccine supply has to be sufficient to accommodate everyone 16 and older who wants one, and hospitalization rates statewide must remain stable and low.

Officials, however, did not explain how they would assess those benchmarks or what would constitute a good trajectory. Both Newsom and Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly struggled at times Tuesday to explain the changes without adding caveats.

Under the new plan, businesses will be able to open with “common-sense risk-reduction measures” such as wearing masks and encouraging vaccinations, Ghaly said. Most capacity limits for businesses and recreational activities will be lifted, although larger indoor events, such as conventions, will be allowed only with testing or vaccination verification requirements, he added.

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Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at UCSF, said California can begin reopening because many residents were exposed to the virus during the winter surge and many others are getting vaccinated.

“He wouldn’t have been able to keep it closed past June 15 anyway, because the cases would have been so low,” she said.

Vaccine eligibility will expand to people in California ages 16 and older beginning April 15, although some counties have already started vaccinating young adults.

The state has so far administered more than 20 million doses, including 4 million in the hardest-hit ZIP codes. More than a third of residents in the state — over 13.6 million people — have received at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Newsom said he expects 30 million doses to be administered by the end of April, putting the state on track to inoculate most of the estimated 32 million people eligible to receive it.

The two-month advance notice should give people enough time to schedule their first dose, wait the recommended three to four weeks for a second shot and get through the two-week period for the vaccine to fully kick in, Ghaly said. It also gives businesses and other services ample time to prepare.

The announcement comes as states across the country have lifted health restrictions as more people get vaccinated, despite rising infection rates in some places, new variants and concerns of another surge.

California had some of the nation's strictest pandemic rules in the country, becoming the first to institute a statewide stay-at-home order last spring.

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Tuesday's announcement signals a potential end date to more than a year of isolation. While many other states have pushed ahead, California has generally resisted reopening too quickly and, in several instances, has moved to reinstate restrictions to stem rising new cases and hospitalizations.

But the pandemic has taken its toll, killing more than 58,000 Californians, while shuttering scores of businesses and forcing millions of students to attend school remotely for much of the year.

In the short term, California's vaccination progress means that counties can more easily shift to less-restrictive tiers, allowing them to increase capacity limits for various activities like indoor dining, shopping, worship services and sporting events. Every county in the Bay Area, except Solano County, has recently moved into the second-least restrictive orange tier.

The vaccine milestone also triggers a lower threshold for counties to enter the least-restrictive yellow tier: an adjusted rate of fewer than two new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

“San Francisco is currently in the orange tier, and fingers crossed governor, we'll be in the yellow tier next week,” said Mayor London Breed during Tuesday's announcement.

The new reopening plan comes as the first-term Democratic governor faces a likely recall election pushed by those critical of his handling of the pandemic. Many Republicans across the state and nation contend that political pressure, not vaccination progress, is driving Newsom's decision to loosen restrictions.

“It took millions of Californians signing a recall petition for him to finally begin reopening our state," Kevin Faulconer, a former San Diego mayor and Republican who is hoping to replace Newsom, said in a statement Tuesday.

Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Republican Governors Association, called Newsom's announcement “too little too late.”

“While Newsom continued to live by a different set of rules than those he mandated on everyone else,” she said, “his failed leadership wreaked havoc on the state."

Nonetheless, Tuesday's announcement was welcome news to millions of people across the state, eager to resume their normal lives.

Michael Rodriguez, owner and general manager of the Cadillac Bar & Grill in San Francisco's near-empty downtown, can't wait for customers to return for happy hour cocktails and for theaters to reopen to live audiences.

“Everybody has something to look forward to now," he said.

This post includes reporting from KQED's Matthew Green, Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí, Guy Marzorati and The Associated Press.

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