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Californians Cautiously Optimistic as Nation’s Largest Economy Fully Reopens

The Golden State’s reopening marks the end of mask-wearing and social distancing mandates for vaccinated people and the removal of capacity restrictions in most business settings.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — On the day California fully reopened its economy, Marilyn Araujo stood outside a busy Los Angeles cafe with a cold drink in hand and saying she would continue to wear a face mask and practice social distancing even as the state ends pandemic restrictions. 

“I still think we could’ve waited a little longer to fully reopen,” Araujo said in an interview Tuesday. “I feel there still should be some restrictions enforced. I’m going to wear my mask for a few more months.”

The Highland Park community’s Figueroa Street commercial corridor was buzzing Tuesday with a mix of masked and unmasked people as businesses opened for the day and as workers set up a farmer’s market.

Marilyn Araujo holds an iced coffee outside a Los Angeles cafe on the day California fully reopened its economy. (Courthouse News photo / Martin Macias Jr.)

After more than 15 months under public health restrictions, California fully reopened its economy — the largest in the nation and the fifth largest in the world — under a plan that methodically reduced or removed Covid-19 pandemic health orders as case rates and deaths from the virus fell.

The reopening marks the end of the state’s restrictions on indoor capacity in most settings and the end of both mask-wearing and social distancing mandates for vaccinated people. The health orders were put in place during a deadly pandemic that has claimed the lives of at least 62,515 people in California. 

State health officials said Covid-19 case rates are the lowest in the nation and that nearly 19 million people, or half the state’s population, have been fully vaccinated. 

But residents are still urged to continue seeking full vaccinations and getting tested if they experience flu-like symptoms or come into contact with people who received a positive Covid-19 test, Tomás J. Aragón, California Department of Public Health director, said in a statement.

“This is a momentous day for our state, thanks in large part to the efforts of Californians to follow public health guidelines during the pandemic and get vaccinated,” Aragón said. “While disease transmission has dropped significantly, Covid-19 is still present and still deadly, especially for the elderly, immune-compromised and the unvaccinated. We must continue to encourage friends and family to get vaccinated, and keep up efforts to wash our hands frequently, wear a mask where required, and stay home if we get sick.”

State health officials confirmed 628 new Covid-19 cases Monday and 251 people are in intensive hospital care after getting infected with the virus. Over 3.6 million California residents currently have confirmed novel coronavirus infections.

Araujo, who said she’s fully vaccinated, was one of many people who still wore masks and practiced social distancing inside businesses and on public sidewalks in Highland Park.

“Even though the full reopening is officially today, people have already not been socially distancing and wearing masks for a while,” Araujo said. 

At the Highland Cafe on York Boulevard, a man who identified himself only as Garrett said he was hopeful the reopening of the state’s economy would provide a much needed boost to local, small businesses.

“It’s really good to see businesses reopening,” Garrett said. “We’ve seen a lot of small, family business closures. Hopefully these businesses bounce back.

Highland Cafe customer Garrett holds his food order outside the Los Angeles restaurant which allowed customers to enter on June 15, 2021, without a mask if they were fully vaccinated. (Courthouse News photo / Martin Macias Jr.)

Garrett, who wore a face covering as he walked out with his food order, said he doesn’t feel California is reopening its economy too soon.

“The numbers bear it out,” Garrett said. “I’m glad California took the steps it did. I don’t think it’s over but I think we’re all more aware. It’s cool to see people still aware of masks and social distancing.”

Outside a donut shop down the street, Ted Shishido said he’s been eagerly awaiting California's reopening.

“I appreciate the slow build-up to reopening but now I feel it’s safe to start the march back to normal,” said Shishido, who was waiting in line without a mask. “I hope more people get vaccinated so we reach herd immunity but I also feel we can go back to our lives now.”

Los Angeles County officials said in a press conference Tuesday unvaccinated residents should continue to seek full immunizations and remain vigilant because Covid-19 has not become less deadly or transmissible.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer thanked health care workers who’ve been on the frontlines in the battle against Covid-19 and who she said paved the way for the state’s reopening.

“Today, parts of our lives will go back to something that feels almost normal,” Ferrer said. “I want to extend my appreciation for the work of the often hidden public health workforce.”

Ferrer said that while 56% of county residents are fully vaccinated and that 66% have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, the county has not reached community immunity. 

To stay in the “good place” and prevent further infection, the county must continue to push vaccines and updated information on the pandemic to unvaccinated residents and encourage testing for people experiencing flu-like symptoms, Ferrer said.

At least 24,415 people in LA County have died after getting infected with Covid-19. LA County health services director Christina Ghaly acknowledged the tragic death toll during the press conference Tuesday.

“We remember and continue to mourn the lives we lost,” Ghaly said. “I’m so sorry for the loss and the pain that feels so real.”

County health officials said unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks and socially distance from others inside retail shops, restaurants and theaters.

Public court docket terminals and intake counters at federal courthouses in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles are also now open to the public.

Masks are required at Sacramento and Los Angeles federal court while the San Francisco federal court has not updated its mask policy. 

Jury trials will be allowed to resume in Central District of California courtrooms though mask wearing will be enforced, according to a notice Tuesday by Clerk of Court Kiry K. Gray.

LA County Superior Court Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor announced Tuesday face coverings and social distancing will continue to be enforced in county courthouses until further notice.

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