California Sets June 15 Target to Fully Reopen Its Economy

California officials plan to fully reopen the economy on June 15 -- if the pandemic continues to abate -- after driving down coronavirus case loads in the most populous U.S. state.

The move will lift capacity limits on restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses, many of which have faced some sort of restriction for more than a year. The state will do away with its current tier-based reopening system, which is based on county-level virus metrics.

“We’re moving past the dimmer switch,” Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press briefing Tuesday. “This is a big day in terms of the pandemic and the journey that we’ve been on.”

California Sets June 15 Target to Fully Reopen Its Economy

The announcement gave a boost to stocks that rely on large crowds. Walt Disney Co. and Six Flags Entertainment Corp. briefly gained on the news, and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. -- the largest movie chain -- pared its losses.

California’s virus outbreak has dramatically improved after a winter surge that spurred renewed lockdowns in the world’s fifth-largest economy. Average daily cases have fallen to about 2,000 from more than 40,000 in January, while its test positivity rate is at 1.6%, the lowest in the U.S.

Vaccinations have also accelerated, with California topping 20 million doses administered. Newsom said he expects to exceed 30 million shots by the end of the month. The governor said he expected students to return to classrooms this school year as well.

The governor, a Democrat, will likely face a recall election later this year in large part driven by anger over business and school closures.

The state will still require people to wear masks in public. And it doesn’t plan to require a vaccine passport to prove that anyone has had an inoculation.

Reopening is dependent on the continued availability of vaccines and continued decreases in Covid-19 hospitalizations.

“Those who are vaccinated -- they generally have seen very mild symptoms,” Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said on a call Tuesday. “If we continue to see that and see the stabilization in data, then we will move forward with that June 15 date.”

There are a couple of exceptions to the lifting of restrictions. The state will require convention centers and meetings of more than 5,000 people to have a process for testing attendees or asking them for proof of vaccination. The state is also still working on standards for large events such as the Coachella music festival, Ghaly said.

Newsom painted the prospect of reopening as a race against variants and making sure Californians stay vigilant in preventing the virus’s spread.

“It is incumbent upon all of us not to say mission accomplished, not to put down our guard, but to continue the work that got us where we are today,” he said.

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