California, the first U.S. state to establish a coronavirus blockade, has turned a page on the pandemic.
The nation’s most populous state lifted most of its restrictions on Tuesday, meaning there are no longer state rules on social distancing or capacity limits in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums or any another place.
And masks — one of the most serious symbols of the pandemic — are no longer required for people vaccinated in most settings, although companies and counties can still demand them.
Governor Gavin Newsom celebrated the milestone by organizing a selection in the lottery of ten winners who will get $ 1.5 million each simply for getting vaccinated. It was the grand finale of the country’s largest vaccine incentive: $ 116 million in COVID-19 lottery prizes and cash card gifts.
“We’re finally here, on June 15, to turn the page,” Newsom declared from a stage at Universal Studios Hollywood during the holidays to mark what he called the “complete reopening” of the state’s economy.
The Democratic governor noted that the more than 40 million doses of vaccine administered and the resulting drop in cases were the reason for the reopening.
“Basically, that’s why we’re here today,” Newsom said.
Just in time for summer, California wants to send the message that life is much closer to normal. The economy is completely reopening for the first time in 15 months and people can largely return to pre-pandemic lifestyles.
Fans can cheer up without a mask at Dodgers and Giants baseball games. Disneyland is open to all tourists after allowing only California residents since April. People can pack up indoor bars and nightclubs from the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles to the Castro in San Francisco.
Tourism was one of the most affected industries during the pandemic and now wants to make up for lost time.
“As for our amazing cities, our iconic attractions, the industry is ready to throw the red carpet to visitors from California, across the country and even around the world,” said Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California.
The highs and lows of the pandemic made California go from being a success story to the American epicenter of the virus. As the country’s first to impose a state shutdown in March 2020, California companies were just beginning to open last June when cases began to escalate and restrictions were re-imposed.
In late summer, a darker reality set in when California rushed into a deadly winter wave. Stops, curfews, and distressing images of crowded hospitals became the norm, as the state set near-daily records of infections and deaths.
More people tested positive for the virus in California (3.8 million and more) and more people died (63,000 more) than anywhere else in the country, even though the nation’s most populous state had a mortality rate. per capita lower than most others.
California now has one of the lowest infection rates in the country, below 1%. This dramatic drop in infections combined with a growing number of vaccinated residents (more than 70% of adults have had at least one dose) led Newsom to announce in April that most COVID-19 restrictions would be removed on June 15.
Reopening does not necessarily mean that people immediately go to places and events that once packed up or that companies choose to return to full performance immediately. But a palpable sense of anticipation has replaced the anxiety, frustration and sadness that kicked off in the summer of 2020.
For Angie Barragan, who was born in Los Angeles and visited last week from Las Vegas, so many things that were once normal feel new, uncomfortable and amazing: walking in public without a mask, socializing for the first time ever.
“It’s kind of like learning to be human again,” he said as he shopped and strolled down historic Olvera Street in Los Angeles, a restored Mexican market once crowded with tourists. “But it’s great to be among the people.”
The reopening does not mean the pandemic is over, Newsom has repeatedly stressed as an explanation for keeping its statewide emergency declaration.
Some public health measures will be maintained for “megaevents.” People attending indoor concerts, sporting events or other large gatherings of more than 5,000 people will need to prove that they are vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID-19 test. Those who go to outdoor events with more than 10,000 people are “strongly encouraged” to do the same.
Although fully vaccinated people will no longer have to wear masks in most places, those who are not vaccinated are expected to, but will not apply. Companies have three options: operate with an honor system, force customers to prove vaccination, or demand that everyone cover their face.
Many wonder if the honor system will work, including the California Nurses Association, which said the new rules essentially require companies and essential workers to be vaccinated police.
“This is not a solid public health strategy,” said Sandy Rending, president of the association, which calls on people to keep masks indoors and in crowds.
At the moment, masks are still needed in places like public transportation, airports, health care centers and inner school classes.
As they applaud the reopening, some business owners said changing mask rules are always confusing.
“We’re excited and a little confused,” said Tom La Torre, owner of Sabella & La Torre restaurant at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, a tourist haven that was transformed into a ghost town during the pandemic.
Until now, his restaurant was limited to 50% capacity.
“It will be good to fill the vacancy. However, we are still confused about the mandate of the mask,” La Torre said.
It is also unclear whether people will come.
For Rita Torres, a retired college administrator in Oakland, the past 15 months have been “mind-boggling.” He has missed dancing at live concerts and hugging his girlfriends in the happy weekly hours. But for her, reopening is one more day.
“Deep down, I want to be happy,” Torres said, but he’ll take it slow. “Because it’s something like that, is it too early? Are we sorry?”
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