What a difference a year makes: California poised to reopen

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David, last name not given, bottom, belays for Frank Driscoll at Planet Granite climbing gym during the coronavirus pandemic in San Francisco, Thursday, March 4, 2021. The gym opened today to allow ten percent capacity. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – This April should look very different than the last for California’s nearly 40 million residents, with a new plan from the governor that will speed up reopening a year after he imposed the nation’s first statewide coronavirus shutdown.

Next month, nearly the entire state could see a return of inside restaurant dining, the reopening of movie theaters and other indoor businesses, far more children back in classrooms and competing in sports — maybe even fans in the stands for Opening Day of Major League Baseball.

“It’s important that we start getting back to work and recovery,” said Emilie Cameron, district affairs and development director at the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which represents businesses in California's capital city.

Sacramento County has been stuck in the state's most restrictive reopening tier, keeping restaurants, gyms and museums closed for indoor service alongside other business restrictions. California uses a four-tiered color-coded system to dictate how businesses and schools must operate; purple is the most restrictive, yellow the least.

The quicker pace of reopening is tied to a new plan to vaccinate California's most vulnerable residents. Once 2 million people across 400 ZIP codes in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods receive at least one vaccine dose, it will be easier for counties to exit the state's most restrictive tier.

That threshold could be reached within two weeks. Once 4 million people in those neighborhoods are vaccinated, counties will be able to open up even more.

It all puts California in a drastically different position than a year ago, when Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the statewide stay-at-home order that restricted travel, shuttered businesses and forced millions of people onto unemployment. California still has among the most severe restrictions of any state and continues to discourage out-of-state visitors.

Even as Newsom outlined the new policies Thursday, he struck a more cautious than optimistic tone, urging Californians to start wearing two masks.