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.”
“California is seen as a less ready destination than the rest of the United States in particular, our friends in Florida,” she said at a press conference Monday. “This is the hard work that we have to do, but again, it’s because this governor has kept us safe. And now it’s time to open up and accelerate the recovery curve but with the lessons learned. That’s the challenge ahead. ”
The tier system used by the state, which used different colors to indicate the level of restrictions based on COVID-19 outbreaks in areas, was dismissed on Tuesday. Restaurants will be allowed to serve at full capacity. Theme parks, like Disneyland and Universal Studios, will be fully reopened. People who have been vaccinated will not need to wear masks in most situations, unless a company has other restrictions.
Some measures will still be in place to ensure that COVID-19 rates remain low. For example, Californians will need to be vaccinated if they attend an indoor event with more than 5,000 people. If a person is not vaccinated, they will first need to take a COVID-19 test. The state recommends a similar protocol for outdoor events with 10,000 people.
Newsom and other leaders have touted the reopening as a major comeback for the state, its residents and the economy, but have also expressed caution.
“It’s not about increasing football tomorrow. It’s not a mission accomplished tomorrow,” Newsom said on Monday. “This virus will not go away tomorrow.”
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