No more tiers: California plans statewide reopening for June 15
California has administered more than 4 million vaccines to its most vulnerable residents, reaching a goal that will make it easier for counties to progress in the state's four-tiered color coded system for reopening. State officials also announced that this tier system will end June 15 if vaccine supply remains steady and coronavirus metrics continue to decline.
"Our hospitalizations have been steadily decreasing for months," Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a call with reporters Tuesday morning. "We have consistently low and improving metrics."
The state anticipates more than 30 million doses will be administered by the end of the month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a press conference.
Indoor gatherings:California to allow indoor gatherings as virus cases plummet
More indoor operations across the state will be able to expand capacity this week, as the goal triggers a loosening of requirements. Sixteen counties will move to less restrictive tiers this week, Newsom said.
The state received 2.4 million vaccine doses this week and 2.1 million the week prior, Newsom said. "We have confidence the numbers will continue to tier up," he added.
Why June 15?
California's tiered system, called the "Blueprint for a Safer Economy," went into effect to phase the state through reopening. Statewide vaccine eligibility will expand to all Californians ages 16 and older on April 15, and the June 15 date was determined based on the eligibility timeline.
Ghaly said that the state wanted to provide newly eligible residents with sufficient time to receive both doses of vaccines before a statewide reopening. Six weeks was then added to account for the interval required between both Moderna vaccine doses, as sufficient antibody response is seen two weeks after the second dose.
California has administered more than 20 million doses statewide — Ghaly said recent weeks have seen more than 2 million vaccines administered each week. More than 70% of older Californians have received at least one dose, he added.
"We're ready to consider the next aspect of our pandemic response," Ghaly said.
The June 15 reopening date could change, however, if vaccine supply doesn't come through or if coronavirus metrics worsen.
Specific metrics have not been set, but Ghaly said hospitalizations will be considered as well as who is occupying beds — does it include people who have been vaccinated?
"So far, we know that even those who are vaccinated who do get infected with COVID generally see mild symptoms," he said.
What will change?
To get "beyond the Blueprint," Ghaly said, means "everyday activities will be allowed, businesses will open with common sense, risk-reduction measures." The move will phase out "specific sector-by-sector capacity limits," he added.
Residents should continue to wear masks and avoid crowds as the state moves toward the summer date, Ghaly said. The state's mask mandates will remain in place.
"We still see masking as a key protective feature," Ghaly said. "We could see fully occupied settings," but with masks, he added.
There are some exceptions. Full capacity at some venues, like large convention centers with a capacity of more than 5,000, for example, won't be allowed indoor operations without proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test until October. International convention attendees will only be allowed if all in attendance are fully vaccinated, according to the guidance.
A target date for resuming large events like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is still undetermined, Ghaly said. But the state's public health department is working with local officials and industries to work on reopening plans, he added.
Newsom also said Californians should expect children "safely back in-person for instruction" by June 15.
The state hopes to drop vaccine eligibility from 16 to age 12 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approves a vaccine for this age group.
The state will continue to monitor variants and how vaccines affect rates of transmission, Ghaly said. If hospitalizations rise, the state will take "the necessary precautions," he added. "Right now we are hopeful in what we’re seeing," he said.
With mutations and variants, "you don't know what you don't know," Newsom said. The state will continue to make decisions based on data, he added.
"We are in a race against these variants," Newsom said.
Maria Sestito covers aging and the senior population in Coachella Valley for The Desert Sun. She is also a Report for America corps member and new to the desert. Please say "hello" via email@example.com or @RiaSestito.