Citing a rising tide of vaccination and relatively stable coronavirus activity statewide, the state said Tuesday, April 6, it would scrap its complicated tier system and fully reopen on June 15.
The announcement, made midday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is the strongest signal yet that life will get back to normal after more than one year of shutdowns that devastated the economy.
Newsom said trouncing the tiers remains contingent on there being no fresh surge of COVID-related hospitalization and on current vaccine supply estimates for the coming two months proving accurate. Should those factors continue to trend in the right directions, the governor said, it should be OK for the vast majority of businesses and organizations statewide to reopen at full capacity more than two weeks before the Fourth of July.
California has already administered 20 million doses, more “than all but five nations in the world,” and anticipates 30 million people across the state will have received at least one dose by the end of April. Already receiving 2 million doses per week, the governor said more is in store by May.
“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.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said in an earlier briefing Tuesday, April 6, that the current trend toward lower COVID-related hospitalizations has a lot to do with the the level of confidence currently on display.
Those who get sick after vaccination, he noted, seem to have less-severe illness and are less likely to end up in a hospital bed.
“What we’ve seen is those who get vaccinated have a high degree of protection from significant disease,” Ghaly said.
But both Ghaly and Newsom said they are not yet ready to declare an end to the state’s mask mandate as many other states have done, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Newsom said the rate of infections and hospitalizations will determine the remaining life of the mask mandate and, for the moment, the health department still feels it is necessary to keep transmission rates from increasing too sharply before a large enough percentage of the population is vaccinated.
“The data will make that determination,” Newsom said. “It won’t be done on political whim.”
If currently-low hospitalization trends continue and vaccine supply continues to grow more robust, then most locations, from bars to concert venues, will be able to open at 100 percent capacity on June 15. There will be special rules, Ghaly said, for certain extra-large gathering places, such as convention centers and large multi-day events.
For the moment, though, the tier system continues to hold sway.
San Diego County will move to the second-least-restrictive orange tier in the state’s reopening blueprint.
The move, confirmed with the release of the state’s latest tier report, will squeeze out a little more indoor operating space for restaurants, gyms, outdoor entertainment venues, amusement parks and a host of other businesses and organizations, allowing them to exceed the thin limits that govern the red tier where the region sat for three straight weeks.
Starting Wednesday, April 7, local restaurants, movie theaters, museums, zoos, places of worship, would be able to use 50 percent of their indoor space, doubling the previous red-tier limit. Outdoor entertainment venues and amusement parks also get attendance bumps.
Locally, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said Tuesday, April 6, that in addition to capacity increases, Wednesday, April 7, will also bring an end to a local curfew that forced restaurants and other food and beverage-serving establishments to stop serving at 10 p.m.
While acknowledging the changes, Wooten declined to celebrate.
The danger of the moment, she said during her weekly COVID-19 update, is that too many people react with too much exuberance. Though 38 percent of residents have now had at least one dose, just 22 percent are fully vaccinated. The state has set a goal of 75 percent or more vaccinated to achieve a state of “herd immunity” in which large outbreaks are no longer probable.
Tuesday’s COVID-19 report continued to show stability in the number of new cases detected in San Diego County, with 212 new positive tests reported. COVID-related hospital census, the number of people currently in beds across the region, was 190 Monday, April 5.
With so much good news in the air, Wooten strove to keep the community grounded. Masks and avoiding close contact with large numbers of unvaccinated people remain necessary.
“I don’t want people to give up or think that ... now that we’re in orange tier, we don’t have to do these things anymore,” she said.
The San Diego Padres have the largest potential gains, moving up from a cap of 20 percent to 33 percent starting Wednesday, April 7. Orange tier rules also allow up to 67 percent of the seats at Petco Park to be put in play if all fans occupying them have either been fully vaccinated or have tested negative for coronavirus.
It was not clear Tuesday morning how the Padres will change their seat management approach. However, a team official said in an email that a third home game against the San Francisco Giants will continue as scheduled Wednesday, April 7, before the team goes on the road for a week. That leaves a little time to adjust before the Dodgers come to town for the first of a three-game series on April 16.
It appears that the team is considering a hybrid arrangement. Season ticket holders received a survey Tuesday afternoon asking whether they were willing to sit close to people who showed proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test or whether they preferred to remain socially distanced.
Getting a slice of the orange tier is possible in San Diego because the state adjusted its lower threshold from 3.9 to 5.9 cases per 100,000 residents, applying the new limit retroactively statewide. According to a statement made Tuesday morning by Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego’s public health officer, the region’s latest weekly score came in at 5.8 in Tuesday’s report from the California Department of Public Health, though the full statewide report had not yet been released. It is the county’s third-straight week under 5.9, posting a 4.9 last week and a 5.5 two weeks ago.
The state loosened the limits for orange Tuesday, April 6, because it has now sent more than 4 million vaccine doses to neighborhoods across the state deemed to have the worst access to health care and other resources necessary for healthy living.
— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune