Vaccinated Californians will be able to go mask-free in indoor stores, bars, restaurants, movie theaters and many other places as part of the state’s grand reopening next Tuesday, officials announced on Wednesday.
The new rules are aligned with federal guidance, meaning that face coverings will still be required on public transportation, and in taxis, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. Masks will also be required indoors at K-12 schools, child care facilities and other places where there may be a large number of children who haven’t been vaccinated.
Unvaccinated people will remain subject to rules to wear masks indoors, though the state, as throughout the pandemic, is maintaining a light touch with enforcement and is not requiring business operators to verify whether patrons are vaccinated.
The shift on masks for the vaccinated will coincide with the much-anticipated lifting of remaining business capacity restrictions in California, where life has been at least partially locked down for some 15 months.
In March of 2020, the state embarked on what was then a massive, unprecedented experiment in controlling the spread of the deadly, highly contagious and at that time newly emerged virus. All 40 million Californians were ordered to stay at home as much as possible.
Since then, Californians have weathered some of the most terrifying COVID surges in the nation — including a winter during which hospitals across huge swaths of the state were overwhelmed — and have endured a roller coaster of lockdowns and reopenings as virus cases have skyrocketed and receded.
The impact of the lockdowns on businesses has helped fuel an effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. In November he apologized for visiting a restaurant with guests from outside his household in violation of the health restrictions he had urged others to take.
Now, residents are navigating the at-times bumpy return to life unfettered by complex rules and a constant fear that the state’s hard-won progress in controlling the virus’ spread could reverse once again.
As of Wednesday, approximately 54% of Californians were fully vaccinated, and 12% had received one dose, according to state figures. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said on Wednesday that while state officials were working to vaccinate as many Californians as possible, they were confident that the reopening on Tuesday would be safe.
“We are tracking well,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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