/California to lift most COVID restrictions, restart business usual on June 15

California to lift most COVID restrictions, restart business usual on June 15


California will retire its color-coded pandemic blueprint on June 15 and allow almost all sectors of the economy to reopen at or near full capacity, assuming the state continues to meet aggressive vaccination goals and hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain low.

The move, announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, signals a dramatic shift in the state’s restrictive pandemic response, as California anticipates wide swaths of the population to be fully vaccinated by summer.

Since August, the state has tried to contain the pandemic — with mixed success — by relying on the so-called Blueprint for a Safer Economy, a complex, color-coded tier system that strictly limits which businesses can open and at what capacity, depending on how widespread the coronavirus is in a county.

“This is a big day in terms of the pandemic,” Newsom said Tuesday during a briefing at the City College vaccination site in San Francisco. “We will be moving beyond the blueprint and getting rid of colored tiers, moving past the dimmer switch. Getting rid of the blueprint as you know it today. That’s on June 15 if we continue our good work.”

The reopening will apply across all 58 counties, and allow almost all types of businesses and activities to resume at or near pre-pandemic levels.

Pedestrians cross a San Francisco street in their face masks. California is set to end its color-coded tier reopening system on June 15, lifting a majority of restrictions, but masks will remain a must for the forseeable future, officials said.

Pedestrians cross a San Francisco street in their face masks. California is set to end its color-coded tier reopening system on June 15, lifting a majority of restrictions, but masks will remain a must for the forseeable future, officials said.

Nick Otto / Special to The Chronicle

The state will retain its mask mandate indefinitely, though, to protect those who will not be immunized soon, which mostly includes children who are not yet approved for vaccines, state officials said.

“We can confidently say by June 15 that we can start to open up as business as usual, subject to ongoing mask-wearing and ongoing vigilance,” Newsom said.

California’s reopening announcement came among repeated dire warnings from federal officials about the national state of the pandemic. On Tuesday, President Biden warned that cases and hospitalizations are climbing nationwide and people should not yet let their guards down.

He also warned against states reopening too fast. Many states have already dropped almost all pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, or they plan to do so soon.

“The virus is spreading because we have too many people who see the end in sight and think we’re at the finish line already,” Biden said. “We aren’t at the finish line. We’re still in a life-and-death race against this virus.”

Compared to many other parts of the country, California’s pandemic metrics are looking fairly stable, and public health officials say they are hopeful the state can stave off a fourth deadly surge. California on Tuesday reached 20 million vaccinations administered — more than any other U.S. state. California has given more shots than all but five countries in the world, Newsom said.

Gabrielle Arroyo (left) receives a Moderna COVID-19 shot from William Wohlfeiler at the Southeast Health Center in San Francisco. California will retire its color-coded pandemic blueprint on June 15 and allow almost all sectors of the economyto reopen at or near full capacity, state officials said Tuesday.

Gabrielle Arroyo (left) receives a Moderna COVID-19 shot from William Wohlfeiler at the Southeast Health Center in San Francisco. California will retire its color-coded pandemic blueprint on June 15 and allow almost all sectors of the economyto reopen at or near full capacity, state officials said Tuesday.

Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

California’s daily cases are leveling off instead of declining, which is somewhat concerning, public health experts have said, but hospitalizations have plummeted and deaths are dropping too. California this week dropped below 2,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time since April last year.

In 8½ weeks, state officials expect to have enough vaccine that every person 16 and older in California will be able to make an appointment and get the shots in a timely manner. And they anticipate hospitalizations due to COVID-19 to remain very low.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services, said California’s leaders are making their commitment to fully reopen “with a great deal of hope and optimism.”

“We are at the stage where we’re ready to consider the next aspect of our pandemic response,” Ghaly said in a news conference Tuesday morning. “This means an end to our color-coded tiers. We can go to the movies and the beach and see family.”

Newsom also said there should be “no barriers” for the state’s schools to reopen for in-person instruction once the restrictions lift. That includes community colleges and universities. But he also noted that many K-12 schools will be on summer break by the time the state fully reopens.

“I want kids back in school safely for in-person instruction,” he said. “On June 15, we anticipate there will be no barrier in getting all our kids back, including institutions of higher learning.”

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a statement that he shared Newsom’s optimism: “As conditions continue to improve — and as all Californians continue common-sense measures such as continuing to wear a mask and getting vaccinated — there is a clear pathway to a safe and full return to in-person teaching and learning this fall.”

The June 15 target is based on an assumption that vaccine supply will increase dramatically in California over the next two months, and that by that date every Californian 16 years and older who wants to be vaccinated will have already had their first shot or be able to easily make an appointment.

The state plans to open vaccines to all comers on April 15. Though supply will likely remain tight at first and not everyone will be able to make appointments immediately, state officials said they believe that will change quickly. Newsom said Tuesday he is aiming for 30 million vaccinations to be administered by the end of the month.

“We’ll be watching that pretty closely: watching the supply coming in, and making sure we have adequate supply of both the vaccine and the appointments,” Ghaly said.

The second critical metric will be hospitalizations, Ghaly said. Though they are currently low, officials will monitor that metric over the next two months and after June 15, and especially pay attention to whether people who have been vaccinated are getting infected and being hospitalized, which could be a sign that dangerous variants that evade vaccines are starting to spread, Ghaly said.

Several worrisome variants have been detected in California, but public health officials believe vaccines provide strong protection against all of them.

Reopening California would mean that every sector currently listed on the state’s blueprint — from social gatherings and private events to restaurants, bars, retail shops, gyms and nail salons — could fully open on June 15, with masking and other basic precautions. Ghaly said he anticipates professional sports in stadiums, concerts and festivals to return at full capacity with certain mitigation measures in place.

Certain operations would still face some restrictions.

Large conventions and multi-day events — such as the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park, or BottleRock in Napa — will require that participants be vaccinated or report a negative coronavirus test at least until Oct. 1.

“We are very excited to hear that the state of California anticipates eliminating the blueprint tiers by June 15. This will be a huge step for San Francisco and our restaurant community,” said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, in a statement.

State officials said they announced plans to reopen the economy so far in advance of the date in large part to give businesses a chance to plan for resuming pre-pandemic services.

Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said stability is key to recovery for many businesses, especially after more than a year of surge-driven shutdowns and uncertainty over when restrictions would be lifted — or new ones put in place.

“For more than a year, the California business community has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to create a safe and healthy space for employees and customers while enduring reductions in customers and sales and, in many cases, unpredictable closures and re-openings,” Lapsley said in a statement. “Today’s announcement by Gov. Newsom is a welcome step forward and provides certainty to businesses to rehire employees.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Serena Dai and Roland Li contributed to this report.

Aidin Vaziri and Erin Allday are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: avaziri@sfchronicle.com, eallday@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @musicsf, @erinallday

Original Source