SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – This April was set to look very different than the last for California’s nearly 40 million residents. The governor is planning a new plan that will expedite reopening a year after the first statewide shutdown of the statewide coronavirus.
Over the next month, most of the state saw a return of restaurant restaurants, reopening of movie theaters and other indoor businesses, far more kids in classrooms, and sports competitions – maybe even fans in the stands for Major League Baseball opening day.
“It’s important that we get back to work and relax,” said Emilie Cameron, director of district affairs and development for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which represents companies in the California capital.
Sacramento County is stuck in the state’s most restrictive reopening stage, keeping restaurants, gyms, and museums closed, along with other business restrictions on indoor service. California uses a four-tier color-coded system to determine how businesses and schools operate. Purple is the most restrictive, yellow the least.
The faster pace of reopening is tied to a new schedule to vaccinate California’s most vulnerable residents. Once 2 million people in 400 postcodes in the most deprived neighborhoods get at least one dose of vaccine, it will be easier for the counties to exit the most restrictive tier in the state.
This threshold could be reached within two weeks. Once 4 million people in these neighborhoods are vaccinated, the districts can open up even more.
All of this puts California in a drastically different position than it did a year ago when Governor Gavin Newsom imposed the nationwide stay-at-home order that restricted travel, closed businesses and forced millions of people out of work. California still has the strictest restrictions of any state and continues to discourage visitors outside of the state.
Even as Newsom outlined the new guidelines on Thursday, he adopted a cautious rather than optimistic tone, urging Californians to wear two masks.
“We can only open our economy again when we are safely behind this pandemic,” said the Democratic governor of a vaccination center in Stockton.
Still, the coronavirus situation in California has improved at a dizzying speed. The rate of people who tested positive for the infection has dropped to 2.1% in the past week, the lowest level in the pandemic.
The number of hospital stays, which was almost 22,000 at the beginning of January, has now fallen to 4,500 and, following state models, is expected to fall below 500 nationwide by the beginning of April. Similarly, models predict only 125 ICU patients in a month.
The models show deaths that lag behind other indicators and continue to flatten out. However, an additional 4,800 people are expected to lose their lives by the end of the month. More than 53,000 people have already died, the largest number in the country.
By concentrating 40% of state vaccine supply in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, state officials hope to further limit hospital stays and deaths, and allow the state to slowly return to a less constrained economy.
The new metrics will make it easier for large Southern California countries like Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego to relax restrictions. San Francisco and several other counties in the Bay Area are already on the less restrictive “red line” where some businesses can reopen to indoor services.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco, called Newsom’s move wise and said the state had little power to restrict outdoor activities in the first place.
In December, Newsom imposed a new stay-at-home order that even closed outdoor dining for several weeks amid the state’s worst surge, and it only approved the resumption of most youth and recreational outdoor sports just last month.
“We have to open the economy – the collateral damage from lockdowns is staggering,” said Gandhi. “It can be argued that in these times when parks and lots were closed and so on, California should never have restricted anything outdoors.”
Newsom paid a political price for its handling of the virus. His popularity has been falling lately, and a recall is nearing the mark needed to give voters an opportunity to sack him later this year.
In the past, Newsom has been criticized for failing to inform lawmakers and corporate groups of its reopening and closing plans before announcing them. This time, however, he moved quickly to show widespread support for the recent changes, sharing supportive statements from the California Medical Association, California Restaurant Association, California State Association of Counties, and the Latino and Black Caucuses Legislation, among others.
Francesca Schuler, a member of the California Fitness Alliance advisory board, said health clubs and gym owners are “excited” about the ability to move faster to the red level, which allows them to have 10% capacity inside.
California is the most restrictive state on fitness centers, she said, forcing many to close and limit exercise options to the public.
“It is a great thing to open up safely,” she said. “Our frustration is that it helps, but it doesn’t solve the problem that public health basically says indoor exercise isn’t essential and 49 other states have used science and data.” to change their point of view. “
Meanwhile, travel and tourism groups criticized Newsom for failing to issue guidelines for business events and conventions that generate significant revenue.
“Every day I speak to someone on the phone trying to convince them not to quit their business and move it to another state,” Steve Goodling, president and CEO of Long Beach’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in a statement. “The governor needs to come up with guidelines to signal to our customers that one day California will be open to hosting events. We want the jobs and income here in California, not in any other state. “
This story has been corrected with the correct spelling of Emilie Cameron’s last name. It’s Cameron, not Clarke.
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