California plans for broad pandemic reopening in mid-June

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Fashion designer Josie Vand wears a facemask as she retrieves a bag with organic vegetables from a farm box from County Line Harvest in Los Angeles on Friday, April 2, 2021. California has been easing COVID-19 restrictions as it recovers from a deadly winter surge, although public health officials still urge people to follow social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. Rates of hospitalizations and deaths have plunged, and the rate of people testing positive for the virus is at a near-record low. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

SAN FRANCISCO – Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday signaled an end to more than a year of closures in California, announcing that the nation’s most populated state plans to lift most coronavirus restrictions on businesses and workplaces June 15, when enough people should be vaccinated to start returning to normal.

A statewide mask mandate will stay in effect, Newsom said, and he cautioned that California will reopen more widely in mid-June only if vaccine supply is sufficient and hospitalization rates stay stable and low.

Still, the Democratic governor, who has overseen some of the most restrictive pandemic rules in the country, said it was time to forge ahead because the state's infection rate is among the lowest in the U.S. and 20 million vaccines have been administered so far.

“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. “So this is a big day."

The announcement comes as states nationwide have lifted health restrictions and mask mandates as more people get vaccinated, despite rising infection rates in some places and concerns of another surge.

California has had some of the nation's strictest pandemic rules, becoming the first to institute a statewide stay-at-home order last spring and adopting a complex color-coded tier system in August that dictated which businesses could open and at what capacity depending on how widespread the virus was in a county.

The pandemic has taken its toll on California, with more than 58,000 people dead, businesses closed and students who have been out of classrooms for much of the year.

Now, the new plan says businesses can open with “common-sense risk reduction measures” such as wearing masks and encouraging vaccinations. Most capacity limits for businesses and recreational activities will be lifted, although larger indoor events, such as conventions, will be allowed only with testing or vaccination verification requirements, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. Other modifications may be needed.