California to move to statewide reopening plan in June

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Fashion designer Josie Vand wears a facemask as she retrieves a bag with organic vegetables from a farm box from County Line Harvest in Los Angeles on Friday, April 2, 2021. California has been easing COVID-19 restrictions as it recovers from a deadly winter surge, although public health officials still urge people to follow social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. Rates of hospitalizations and deaths have plunged, and the rate of people testing positive for the virus is at a near-record low. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

SAN FRANCISCO – California Gov. Gavin Newsom has led the nation’s most populous state through the pandemic using complicated metrics, county-by-county rules and a color-coded tier system dictating what people and businesses can do.

But with summer approaching, more Californians getting vaccinated, and a recall threat looming, he’s now taking a simpler approach: Come June 15, almost all restrictions will be lifted.

“This is a big day," Newsom said Tuesday as he delivered the news that life could return to some semblance of normal by summer.

A statewide mask mandate will stay in effect, Newsom said, and he cautioned that California will reopen more widely in mid-June only if vaccine supply is sufficient and hospitalization rates stay stable and low. But he set no specific metrics to measure the state's progress on either front.

It's a marked difference from the state's current approach to reopening. The color-coded system that California uses to dictate business operations assesses a detailed set of metrics including infection rates and prescribes specific limits for how many patrons a business can serve at a time. There are differing rules depending on the county.

Now, rather than watching for certain hospitalization numbers, the state will look at who is being hospitalized, keeping an eye on whether that includes people who are vaccinated, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state health secretary. The state will also continue to monitor where vaccinations are going, with an eye on making sure vulnerable Californians have access to shots, Newsom said.

“We have not put precise numerics to that,” he said when asked what the state will monitor as June 15 approaches.

Broadly, Newsom said it was time to forge ahead because the state’s infection rate is among the lowest in the U.S. and 20 million vaccinations have been administered so far. He expects to give out 30 million by the end of April, putting the state well on the path to partially inoculating the 32 million people16 and over who will be eligible. The state will consider supply sufficient if people seeking appointments can get one within two weeks.