California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, has turned a page on the pandemic.
The nation’s most populated state lifted most of its restrictions Tuesday; meaning no more state rules on social distancing or capacity limits at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums or anywhere else.
And masks — one of the most fraught symbols of the pandemic — are no longer mandated for vaccinated people in most settings; though businesses and counties can still require them.
Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated the milestone by hosting a lottery-style selection of 10 winners; who will get $1.5 million each simply for being vaccinated.
It was the grand finale to the nation’s largest vaccine incentive; — $116 million in Covid-19 lottery jackpots and cash card giveaways.
“Finally we are here, June 15th, to turn the page;” Newsom declared from a stage at Universal Studios Hollywood during festivities to mark what he called the “full reopening” of the state’s economy.
The Democratic governor pointed to the more than 40 million doses of vaccine administered and the resulting plunge in cases as the reason for the reopening.
“Foundationally, that’s why we’re here today,” Newsom said.
Just in time for summer, California wants to send the message that life is getting much closer to normal.
The economy is fully reopened for the first time in 15 months and people can largely return to pre-pandemic lifestyles.
Fans can cheer maskless at Dodgers and Giants baseball games.
Disneyland is opening to all tourists after allowing just California residents since April.
People can pack indoor bars and nightclubs from the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles to the Castro in San Francisco.
Tourism was among the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic and now wants to make up for a lost time.
“In terms of our incredible cities, our iconic attractions, the industry is ready to roll out the red carpet to visitors in California; around the nation and even the world,” said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California.
Pandemic highs and lows saw California go from being a success story to the U.S. epicenter of the virus.
As the first in the country to impose a statewide lockdown in March 2020; California’s businesses were just starting to reopen last June when cases started rising and restrictions were imposed again.
By summer’s end, a darker reality set in as California hurtled toward a deadly winter surge.
Shutdowns, curfews and harrowing images from overwhelmed hospitals became the norm as the state set records almost daily for infections and deaths.
More people tested positive for the virus in California (3.8 million and counting) and more people died (63,000 plus) than anywhere else in the country; although the nation’s most populous state had a lower per capita death rate than most others.
California now has one of the lowest rates of infection in the country, below 1%.
That dramatic drop in infections combined with an increasing number of vaccinated residents — over 70% of adults have had at least one dose; — led Newsom to announce in April that most Covid-19 restrictions would be lifted June 15.
The reopening doesn’t necessarily mean people will immediately flock to places and events they once packed; or that businesses will opt to return to full capacity immediately. But a palpable feeling of anticipation has replaced the anxiety, frustration and sadness that ushered in summer 2020.