California to lift most COVID-19 limits, freeing up businesses

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LOS ANGELES — California will lift most remaining crowd-capacity limits and physical distancing requirements related to COVID-19 on June 15, proceeding to fully reopen its economy as the pandemic abates and vaccination rates grow, health officials said on Friday.

The new policy will end California’s complicated, color-coded system of tiered restrictions, first imposed on a county-by-county basis last August.

California, the most populous U.S. state with some 40 million people, was the first to impose statewide stay-at-home orders and mandatory business closures in March 2020 as the pandemic began to take hold.

Tough constraints were renewed when California became a leading U.S. coronavirus hotspot during a surge in cases that swept much of the country late last year, straining healthcare systems until the vaccine rollout in early 2021 helped slow the outbreak.

California gradually eased restrictions again as infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths markedly declined. Last month Governor Gavin Newsom set the goal of fully reopening commerce in mid-June, as long as hospital admissions remained low with enough vaccine available for everyone over age 16 who wants one.

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Public health officials said those targets are being met, allowing all businesses still subject to restrictions to “return to usual operations with no capacity limits or physical distancing requirements,” except for “mega events.” “We are tracking well in meeting our goals,” state Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters on a conference call.

The latest policy will require vaccine verification or a negative COVID-19 test result for anyone attending indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

Ghaly said venue operators would have the option of allowing attendees to verify their vaccine status through “self-attestation,” saying the state was “not requiring or considering vaccine passports for vendors.”

The same attendance conditions are recommended, but not required, for outdoor assemblies of 10,000 or more people, the Department of Public Health said.

“Relaxing many of our public health measures is possible because we’ve chosen to get vaccinated against COVID-19, worn masks and kept our distance,” the agency’s director, Dr. Tomas Aragon, said in a statement.

California has logged nearly 3.7 million known COVID-19 cases, with 61,672 deaths, according to state health figures.

Even with one of the lowest rates of infection by population in the country, California documented 1,627 new cases and 69 deaths on Thursday. Nearly 36 million vaccine doses have been administered in the state so far, with 16.3 million people fully vaccinated, the health department said. (Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)

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