SAN FRANCISCO – California plans to lift most coronavirus restrictions on businesses and workplaces June 15, with officials saying enough people should be vaccinated by then to allow for life to almost get back to a pre-pandemic normal.
The mask mandate in the nation’s most populated state will remain in effect, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Tuesday, and he cautioned that California will reopen more widely in mid-June only if vaccine supply remains sufficient and hospitalization rates remain stable and low.
“With more than 20 million vaccines administered across the state, it is time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to fully reopen California’s economy. We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement released ahead of a news conference in San Francisco.
The announcement comes as states across the country have lifted health restrictions as more people get vaccinated. California had some of the nation’s strictest pandemic rules, becoming the first to institute a statewide stay-at-home order last spring and adopting a complex, color-coded tier system that dictated which businesses could open and at what capacity depending on how widespread the virus was in a county.
“This means the end to our color-coded tiers. We can go to movies to the beach and see family,” Ghaly said.
Technically, Californians can go to the beach and see family now under certain circumstances, but the announcement signals an end date to more than a year of isolation. California has resisted reopening too quickly while other states have pushed ahead.
California has administered 20 million shots, including 4 million to the hardest-hit ZIP codes, and COVID-19 infection rates are low.
But the pandemic has taken its toll, with more than 58,000 people dead from the virus, businesses closed and students who have been out of classrooms for much of the year.
Businesses can open with “common-sense risk reduction measures,” including mandated masking and encouraging vaccinations. The state will continue contact tracing and testing.
Most capacity limits will be lifted, although large-scale indoor events, such as conventions, will be allowed only with testing or vaccination verification requirements, Ghaly said.
Vaccine eligibility will expand to people in California 16 and older starting April 15, although some counties have already started vaccinating young adults.
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 vaccines to fully kick in, he said. It also gives businesses and others ample time to prepare.