Good evening. I’m Melody Petersen, and it’s Tuesday, April 6. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.
Get out your calendars and put a big red circle around Tuesday, June 15. That’s when Gov. Gavin Newsom intends to “fully reopen” the state’s economy.
Newsom’s announcement is the clearest date yet offered for ending the myriad restrictions that have besieged businesses and upended daily life during the year-long pandemic.
But the date is not assured. It will stay on the books only if the state has sufficient vaccine supplies on hand and COVID-19 hospitalizations here remain low.
And it won’t bring a full return to pre-pandemic life, writes Times staff writer Luke Money. Notably, California’s mask mandate will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“Our expectation is, if we’re vigilant, if we don’t spike the ball, if we don’t announce mission accomplished, and continue to do the good work that we’ve done, that by June 15, we’ll be beyond that blueprint and we’ll be back to a sense of normalcy,” Newsom said Tuesday.
If all goes as planned, June 15 would mark the official end of California’s current reopening roadmap, which sorts counties into one of four color-coded tiers based on metrics that include the number of coronavirus cases and rate of positive test results.
“The entire state will move into this phase as a whole. This will not be county-by-county,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary.
Officials said sectors included in the state’s reopening blueprint will be allowed to “return to usual operations in compliance with Cal/OSHA requirements and with common-sense public health policies in place,” such as mask requirements, coronavirus testing, and nudges toward vaccines. Conventions and other large indoor gatherings would be allowed as long as attendees can verify that they’re vaccinated against COVID-19 or had a recent negative coronavirus test result.
“If we see any concerning rise in our hospitalizations, we will take the necessary precautions,” Ghaly said. “But right now, we are hopeful in what we’re seeing as we continue to build on the 20 million vaccines already administered.”
A successful statewide reopening in June would be a major political win for the governor, who faces a likely recall election in the fall. Newsom’s chances of surviving a recall will probably be higher if Californians have resumed some form of pre-pandemic life by the time they cast their ballots.
The governor’s announcement came as the state hit its goal of administering 4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to people in its most vulnerable communities — a milestone not only in the ongoing struggle to more equitably distribute the shots, but one that could ease more restrictions even ahead of June 15.
Hitting that 4 million dose target means the state will implement new criteria that let counties more quickly relax rules on businesses and public spaces.
Prior to today, counties had to record an adjusted case rate of fewer than four new infections per day per 100,000 people to move into the orange tier, where Los Angeles County now resides. With the 4 million dose target now achieved, the requirement has been loosened to under six new cases per day per 100,000 — a change that could keep the county from possibly sliding back into the more restrictive red tier.
Entering the most lenient yellow tier now requires an adjusted daily new case rate below two cases per 100,000 people, compared with the previous requirement of less than one. As of Tuesday, L.A. County’s rate is 3.1 cases per 100,000 residents.
But some people fear California may be lifting its restrictions too soon.
Businesses throughout L.A. County threw open their doors Monday for the widest resumption of operations many had seen in months. Bowling alleys opened their lanes and card clubs hosted poker players inside, while gyms and nail salons welcomed more people. Some merchants are reporting their best business since the pandemic began.
Griffith Park saw such a crush of visitors on Easter Sunday that it had to temporarily turn people away. In Pasadena, nearly 20,000 cars passed through city-owned structures last week. That’s more than double the number in the week that ended Jan. 24.
“It’s almost like pre-COVID, the way we’re seeing people out and about,” said Pasadena spokesperson Lisa Derderian. “That’s a good thing, mentally. It’s good that people are trying to return to some type of normalcy. But we don’t want people to let their guard down.”
That worry was shared in the northern part of the state.
“It just seems like generally people are less concerned,” said Joe DeVries, the director of interdepartmental operations in Oakland, where Lake Merritt saw thousands of visitors this weekend. “But, as a city, it’s still a concern for us.”
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By the numbers
California cases, deaths and vaccinations as of 6:31 p.m. Tuesday:
A potentially worrisome variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in India — and is so new that it has no official name — has been found in California by scientists at Stanford University.
Nicknamed the “double mutant” variant, it is sparking concern among some scientists because it contains not just one but two mutations that have been identified in other so-called variants of concern. “We don’t know how those two mutations behave when they’re paired together,” said Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, director of Stanford’s Clinical Virology Lab.
India’s government first disclosed the existence of the variant on March 24, Pinsky said, after a surge of coronavirus cases was detected in the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai. The variant is responsible for roughly 15% to 20% of new cases there.
Just one day later, on March 25, the Stanford lab identified the same variant in a coronavirus sample taken from a patient in the San Francisco Bay Area. “This rapid spread across the globe is pretty impressive,” Pinsky said, “and also a bit concerning.”
Better news came from Riverside and Kern county officials, who have expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines because of unused supplies. Both counties said all residents 16 and older can now get the vaccine.
Farther north in Sacramento, officials with UC Davis Health also announced plans to expand vaccine eligibility to those 16 and older. Then San Bernardino County followed suit with a similar announcement.
The decisions instantly qualify hundreds of thousands of Californians for the vaccine who otherwise would have to wait.
The current statewide eligibility threshold for the vaccine is age 50 and over. On April 15, the bar will be lowered to include all residents 16 and older.
While California businesses are gradually regaining customers and revenues as the state reopens, many landlords continue to struggle.
Near the start of the pandemic, government officials enacted rules that allowed people hurt financially by the shutdown to keep their housing even if they couldn’t pay their rent. The policies have averted a wave of evictions and homelessness. But a year later, landlords say the rules are heaping an increasingly unfair burden on them, my colleague Andrew Khouri reports.
Property owners and managers said they understood the unprecedented nature of the crisis but are absorbing too much of the cost. Many have had to dip into their savings to keep properties afloat and delay maintenance or repairs. Some said they probably can’t or won’t hold on much longer. “I am hoping something will turn around [so] I don’t have to sell,” said Beverly Rowe, who manages her family’s Los Angeles triplex.
That asset, hard-earned for many Black households like hers, is now at risk. Rowe said a tenant owes $30,000 in rent payments missed over the last year.
Meanwhile, a group of California legislators has introduced a bill that could help people struggling to pay for their housing and other expenses. The bill would offer households free banking services — which can otherwise be expensive for low-wage workers.
“The bill creates a way for Californians to bank without paying exorbitant fees — money that could be used for food and rent or rebuilding from the economic devastation wreaked by the pandemic,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), a lead author of the measure.
See the latest on California’s coronavirus closures and reopenings, and the metrics that inform them, with our tracker.
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Around the nation and the world
President Biden set an April 19 deadline for states to make all adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines. That’s two weeks earlier than his original goal (though still four days after California will have expanded eligibility to everyone 16 and up).
Biden made the announcement at the White House on Tuesday after a visit to a vaccination site at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. He thanked everyone for administering the shots and for showing up to receive them. “That’s the way to beat this,” he said. “Get the vaccination when you can.”
More information has come to light about possible side effects from the vaccine made by AstraZeneca, which is used in the U.K. and Europe but is not yet authorized in the U.S.
A top European drug regulator said there is a link between the vaccine and rare blood clots found in a tiny fraction of recipients. Still, he said the benefits of taking the shot outweigh the risks.
Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the European Medicines Agency, said further study was still needed to understand why and how the phenomenon occurs. But based on the evidence to date, he said there’s a clear association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the rare blood clots.
“It is becoming more and more difficult to affirm that there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship,” Cavaleri said. Many of the blood clots have been found in younger women.
Scientists are also learning more about the serious inflammatory illness that has hit more than 3,000 American children infected by the coronavirus.
A new analysis by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most children struck by multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, had initial infections with no symptoms or only mild ones.
The study bolsters evidence that syndrome is a delayed immune response to COVID-19. The study included almost 1,800 cases reported to the CDC from March 2020 through mid-January.
Most kids who have had COVID-19 haven’t developed the illness. Almost 3.5 million U.S. children and teens have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Assn.
Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chairman of the academy’s infectious diseases committee, said the condition typically causes children to become very sick very quickly, but that most “respond very well to treatment and the vast majority get completely better.”
Your questions answered
Today’s question comes from our own Deborah Netburn, and it’s for you: Are you feeling anxious about things getting back to normal?
Coronavirus cases have plummeted in California. More than one-third of residents have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Indoor dining is back. You can once again attend a Major League Baseball game, or resume your bowling league. Even Six Flags Magic Mountain is back in business.
Isn’t this is the moment we’ve been waiting for — when life finally starts to return to normal?
Although all these things are now permitted, some of us still find ourselves cringing when we see groups sitting outdoors at restaurants or hear our neighbors hosting friends in their backyards. Health officials may say it’s safe, but after a year of maintaining distance, it still feels wrong.
If you are experiencing this kind of reentry anxiety, I’d love to hear from you. What kinds of activities make you feel uncomfortable even though they’re allowed? And what do you think it will take for you to feel comfortable again? Please send me your thoughts via email, and thanks in advance!
Need a vaccine? Keep in mind that supplies are limited, and getting one can be a challenge. Sign up for email updates, check your eligibility and, if you’re eligible, make an appointment where you live: City of Los Angeles | Los Angeles County | Kern County | Orange County | Riverside County | San Bernardino County | San Diego County | San Luis Obispo County | Santa Barbara County | Ventura County
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