California will fully reopen its economy June 15 as long as Covid-19 vaccinations remain widely available and hospitalization continues to be stable, the governor and public health officials said Tuesday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said that with 20 million doses administered and a total of 30 million expected by the end of the month, it’s time to start planning for a post-pandemic normal. Roughly 18.5 percent of Californians are partially vaccinated and 23.3 percent are fully vaccinated, as of Tuesday.
“With the expectation of an abundance of doses coming in from the federal government through the end of this month and into May, 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 Tuesday during a press conference in San Francisco.
Business and industry representatives cheered Tuesday’s announcement, which will allow restaurants, bars and gyms to open at full capacity after more than a year of restrictions.
“Today’s announcement by Governor Newsom is a welcome step forward and provides certainty to businesses to rehire employees,” Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said in a statement. “The business community will continue to aggressively work to stop the spread and encourage vaccinations, which are necessary steps to reopen the economy and protect our communities.”
But some health experts and local officials expressed concerns given the proliferation of new coronavirus variants and the increased spread of the disease in other parts of the country and the world. Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, who is also a physician, said he believes the governor’s plan is driven by the potential of a recall election this year, and stressed that large events and indoor gatherings remain risky.
“The only reason to open up as fast as possible is because of an election,” said Smith, who has been critical of the governor’s changing criteria to accelerate reopenings. “I wish the governor’s priority was to control the pandemic rather than to control the election.”
The lifting of restrictions in June will happen statewide rather than county by county. The eight-week march towards reopening gives businesses and individuals who want to get vaccinated time to get the vaccine, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said at a Tuesday briefing.
California on April 15 opens vaccinations to everyone over the age of 16.
If the hospitalization and vaccination measure are met, everyday activities will be allowed and businesses can open with common-sense risk reduction measures, he said. The state will monitor hospitalization rates, vaccine access and vaccine efficacy against variants, with the option to revisit the June 15 date if needed.
“We are really signaling that the blueprint, as it’s devised now, will no longer be in effect after June 15,” Ghaly said.
The state’s mask mandate will continue to stay in place. No date for lifting that order has been announced.
Events at stadiums and other large venues will be permitted, Ghaly said, but conventions will be capped at 5,000 people until Oct. 1 as long as verification of vaccination can be provided. Ghaly said the state is working on that guidance with convention operators as well as operators of large multiday events with both indoor and outdoor activities. Those events, such as music festivals, aren’t yet allowed to resume.
“We are encouraged that it appears conventions and trade shows will be back open for business in California beginning June 15,” Barb Newton, president and CEO of the California Travel Association, said in a statement. “We look forward to learning more details from the administration and collaborating with them on a smooth and safe transition to re-open this critical sector of the state’s economy.”
The state in late August unveiled the current reopening blueprint, a four-tiered framework that was designed to allow the state to slow the pace of reopening as the state recovered from a summer surge. But California experienced a much larger surge in the winter months that created stress on the health care system and frustration among business owners.
California has steadily recovered since earlier this year, and is now reporting among the lowest positivity rates in the country.
The state on Friday updated its reopening guidance to allow indoor sporting events and concerts to reopen with health precautions in place beginning April 15.
On Tuesday, California hit its target of administering 4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the state’s most most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. That allows more counties to reopen businesses and expand capacity in public spaces under a new strategy to increase vaccine administration in the state’s hardest hit communities.
Under the state’s soon-to-be-retired reopening blueprint, 15 counties on Tuesday moved out of the second-most restrictive, or red, tier, while one county — San Joaquin in the Central Valley — advanced out of the most restrictive tier. The counties progressing from red to orange included Contra Costa, El Dorado, Humboldt, Imperial, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Riverside, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego, Siskiyou, Sonoma, Tulare and Ventura.