California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) today promised a tantalizing, if conditional, end to his scheme of pandemic restrictions on businesses and social activities. Come June 15, the state's economy will be allowed to completely reopen, provided that there are enough vaccines for everyone over 16 who wants them, and COVID-19 hospitalization rates stay stable and low.
"It is time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to fully reopen California's economy," said Newsom in a press release. "We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic. We will need to remain vigilant, and continue the practices that got us here—wearing masks and getting vaccinated—but the light at the end of this tunnel has never been brighter."
Today's announcement still leaves room for a number of public health regulations to remain in place. Its main effect is to establish a clear sunset for the governor's Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
The Blueprint put the state's counties in one of four tiers based on their rate of new COVID-19 cases and rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive. Counties in the most restrictive tier, Purple, were required to completely shutter indoor dining and nail salons, and force most other businesses to operate at severely reduced capacity.
The Blueprint has been in effect since late August 2020, save for a two-month interruption from December through January when Newsom imposed an even more restrictive regional stay-at-home order. Today, most of California's counties are in the Orange Tier, which allows offices to reopen and for restaurant dining rooms to operate at 50 percent capacity.
Provided Newsom's conditions on low, stable hospitalizations and available vaccines are met, all of this will go away come June 15. The governor's press release says that the entire state will move beyond the Blueprint at the same time.
It's not clear from the governor's initial announcement if counties will retain their ability to establish their own, stricter pandemic restrictions, a power they had under the Blueprint. It also doesn't appear that Newsom has committed to fully repealing the emergency declaration he issued in March 2020 that's enabled him to impose the Blueprint and various other COVID-19 reopening protocols.
A number of pandemic restrictions will remain in place after June 15. For example, conventions will be capped at 5,000 people until October unless vaccinations are required for attendees. International convention attendees will be required to be vaccinated.
The state's mask mandate will also remain in place, reports the Los Angeles Times. Testing and contact tracing will also continue.
Newsom's Blueprint has proven intensely controversial, attracting both bottom-up resistance and lawsuits arguing the governor usurped the powers of the state legislature, which played no role in crafting the Blueprint.
So long as the state's emergency declaration remains in effect, Newsom will still have a lot of power to impose whatever restrictions and mandates he might wish.