State officials on Friday unveiled perhaps their most eagerly anticipated set of pandemic-related guidelines yet, those that will steer California into a new, fully reopened age.
Come June 15, Californians will wake up to a world that looks nothing like they’ve seen over the past year-plus — one where businesses can open their doors without COVID-19 constraints on capacity or requirements for physical distancing, and where people who are fully vaccinated for the disease no longer need to wear masks in most situations.
California will also align with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to travel, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary.
“We are now at a point, given our metrics that we’ve been watching, that … we can begin to talk about moving beyond the blueprint,” he said during a briefing.
Gov. Gavin Newsom foreshadowed the announcement Thursday, telling KABC-TV Channel 7 that, with the new guidance released, “people can really paint that future and see themselves in it: Post-masks and post-any modification in this blueprint,” referring to the system of color-coded tiers that has guided reopenings statewide for the past nine months
“Our positivity rate has remained stable, 0.9 to 1%, our case rates continue to be among the lowest in the United States and our vaccination numbers are holding pretty steady, about 2 million over the last seven days,” he told the outlet. “And while we’ve seen a decline, we’re also seeing a little stability. This gives me confidence that we’re going to get to June 15.”
Though June 15 has been billed as California’s full reopening date, it remained somewhat unclear until now under what circumstances, if any, some safety modifications would remain in place.
When announcing the target date in early April, officials said sectors that had been included in what California calls the Blueprint for a Safer Economy would be allowed to “return to usual operations in compliance with Cal/OSHA requirements and with common-sense public health policies in place, such as required masking, testing and with vaccinations encouraged.”
As has often been the case throughout the pandemic, though, California’s plans have changed along with coronavirus conditions.
While the initial idea was to keep the state’s mask mandate in place, officials this week instead announced that Californians who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to go mask-free in most indoor settings starting June 15 — a move that will bring the state into alignment with recent CDC guidance.
One area where there will be some additional requirements is high-attendance indoor events.
The state will require organizers of indoor events with more than 5,000 people to verify that attendees are either vaccinated or have recently tested negative, according to Ghaly. The state will recommend, though not require, the same for outdoor events with more than 10,000 attendees.
Moving beyond the state’s tier reopening system is dependent on two factors.
Officials said they needed to have enough COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate all willing and eligible Californians. On top of that, the number of coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized statewide had to be stable and low — with particular attention paid to how many fully vaccinated people were falling ill enough to need that level of care.
Unlike the earlier days of the vaccine rollout, California’s inoculation campaign today is constrained less by available supply and more by falling demand.
Earlier in the spring, the state was doling out roughly 400,000 vaccine doses per day, on average. Over the last week, though, providers statewide have administered an average of 225,652 doses per day, according to data compiled by The Times.
Though the pace has slowed, California has still made a significant dent in its inoculation queue. Roughly 63.5% of residents who are eligible for vaccination — that is, those who are at least 12 years old — have received at least one dose to date, CDC figures show.
And 46.7% of that cohort are fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or both required doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have also fallen to some of the lowest levels recorded during the pandemic.
On Thursday, there were 1,326 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized statewide. That’s down about 450 from a month ago.
“On both those metrics — vaccines and the state of COVID in our hospitals — we feel like we are tracking well toward meeting our goal of being ready for June 15,” Ghaly said.
It’s unclear how many of those people may have been admitted despite being fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Though exceedingly uncommon, it is possible for someone to be infected even after completing his or her inoculation course.
Rarer still is for one of those “breakthrough” cases to result in serious illness.
Of the 3.3 million Los Angeles County residents fully vaccinated as of May 7, for instance, only 933 later tested positive for the coronavirus — including people who showed no symptoms but were tested anyway because of workplace requirements, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Only 71 fully vaccinated residents had to be hospitalized. Twelve people later died, though Ferrer noted four of them had severely weakened immune systems.
Nationwide, 1,811 cases of a fully vaccinated person being hospitalized with coronavirus-related illness had been reported to the CDC as of Monday, along with 353 deaths. However, federal health officials said 25% of those hospitalizations, and 18% of fatalities, were “reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.”
More than 123 million Americans had been fully vaccinated as of that date.