California plans to lift all its coronavirus restrictions on June 15, provided there are enough Covid-19 vaccines available for anyone age 16 or older and hospitalizations remain low and stable, state officials announced on Tuesday.
The move in June will allow Californians to return to restaurants, bars, movie theaters, houses of worship and concerts without strict capacity limits for the first time in well more than a year. President Biden has said there will be enough vaccines available for all adults by the end of May.
Other states have already eased health restrictions at a time when the Biden administration is pleading with them not make those changes just yet. The country is facing a fourth possible surge of the virus, and there are concerns about the spread of worrisome virus variants. In many states, coronavirus case counts have been climbing.
“I think if everyone continues down the road we’re on now, it will be behind us, but it’s not over yet,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday during a visit to a vaccination site in Alexandria, Va.
Later in the afternoon, during remarks at the White House, he emphasized how serious the fight against the virus remained. “Let me be deadly earnest with you: We aren’t at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re still in a life and death race against this virus.”
But in California, cases have been declining since hitting a peak early this year, with the state now averaging around 2,700 new cases a day, the lowest figure since last June.
And according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Tuesday, 35 percent of the state’s total population has received at least one vaccine shot, and 18 percent are fully vaccinated.
“With more than 20 million vaccines administered across the state, it is time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to fully reopen California’s economy,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic.”
The state will, however, keep in place a mask mandate for the foreseeable future, and there will be some limits on large indoor events or conventions of more than 5,000 people at least until fall.
California was the first state to implement a stay-at-home order last year, on March 19, plunging the state’s 40 million residents into the nation’s largest experiment in preventing transmission of what was then a mystery-shrouded virus.
Since then, California has toggled among various levels of restriction as new cases have surged, receded and then surged again, overwhelming hospitals in the winter, even as other states have allowed full reopenings.
Mr. Newsom was widely criticized last year when he attended a dinner for a lobbyist friend’s birthday at one of Napa Valley’s most exclusive restaurants, the French Laundry, after imploring Californians to be vigilant and to refrain from seeing their relatives during the holidays.
His administration’s ever-changing reopening strategies, which have been implemented piecemeal across the state’s 58 counties, have also come under fire.
The latest announcement will lift what state leaders have referred to as California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” which laid out a system of color-coded tiers of restrictions. As individual counties reached certain case thresholds, they were allowed to move through the tiers, a system first introduced in August when the state was grappling with an alarming rise in new cases.
Mr. Newsom and other state leaders emphasized that the state needed to have the ability to quickly reimpose emergency measures if hospitals started to fill up.
Around Thanksgiving, there were signs that public health officials’ worst fears would be realized. By December, hospitals — especially in hard hit areas, like Los Angeles — were overwhelmed with patients, and the state ordered Californians to stay at home again.
Now, as the focus has turned to the state’s vaccine rollout,Californians have been frustrated with what they have seen as a confusing and chaotic effort.
When state officials recently announced that the state would expand vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 or older starting April 15, Dr. Christopher Longhurst, U.C. San Diego Health’s chief information officer, predicted “continued frustration as more people become eligible but supply is not available to meet demand.”
Experts have also criticized the process for allowing poorer and harder-hit communities to be bypassed, even though state officials have repeatedly said equity was a “North Star” for their efforts.
Leaders in California are painfully aware of the divide between the state’s wealthiest and often whitest communities, on the one hand, and its poorest communities, often home to predominantly Latino essential workers, on the other, and so advocates for equity have said that speed and precision should both be priorities in the distribution of vaccines.
“Equity and scale are possible for the wealthiest states in the nation,” Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, chief executive of the Latino Community Foundation, said recently.
State officials said on Tuesday that they were confident in the state’s ability to inoculate millions more Californians, including particularly vulnerable workers, over the next couple of months.
“We’ve been very thoughtful and measured with who’s eligible to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services.