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California mask term ends, state reopens COVID restrictions

Only about six months ago, California officials made desperate appeals for residents to shelter in place as emergency rooms filled too many COVID-19 patients. The state has ushered in some of the toughest measures to tackle the virus, shutting down beaches and outdoor dining as it has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States

But now, the country’s most populous state reopens on Tuesday, removing most restrictions and promising an economic recovery as the country spends months marked by death and economic devastation.

“It’s a new day,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a press conference Monday, ahead of the state’s reopening. “This state is not about to recover, it is about, as has been noted, roaring back.”

The state started the pandemic by being hailed as a leader in the fight against the virus. He was the first to issue a lockdown order. And when COVID-19 began its U.S. invasion, California was largely spared, at least initially.

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Over the months, the state would begin to reopen its efforts on several occasions only to remove the reins as cases increased.

The restrictions would ease, allowing businesses to reopen and spend the money needed to restock and rehire – only for the restrictions to be reinstated. Public schools have remained closed for most of the pandemic and have yet to fully reopen. Theme parks, outdoor sports, museums, hiking trails and beaches have all been closed. About a third of California restaurants have closed permanently during the months of the pandemic.

For a while, it seemed to work. Cases remained relatively low as attention focused on places like New York or the Dakotas resisting unfathomable infection rates, with hospitals and mortuaries filling up.

Then the success changed in late fall and early winter when an intense wave hit California. The state has become the epicenter of the pandemic for some time. The virus has filled the state’s intensive care units and has mystified experts, many of whom still struggle to explain why California’s precautions weren’t enough to stop the outbreak even as more states lax have seen fewer cases.

Tensions erupted in the state, leaving the governor facing a recall election.

Now California will remove most of its restrictions and join the majority of states that have already reopened. The state has some of the highest immunization levels in the country with around 55% of residents fully vaccinated and 66% with at least one injection. It has also maintained some of the lowest infection rates in the United States in recent weeks.

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As part of the reopening, heads of state touted a California vacation giveaway for vaccinated residents. The goal is not only to encourage vaccinations, but also to encourage travelers to explore the state. Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California, said it would take years to bounce back from COVID-19. She compared Californians spending money in the state on vacation to “an act of modern day patriotism.”

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