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Reopening California: Is the State Ready for June 15th?

Posted by 
Michael Beausoleil
Michael Beausoleil
 24 days ago

June 15th will be a big day for California. Businesses can reopen at 100% capacity. Now, this is also the day when officials are issuing relaxed mask regulations. In most settings, both indoors and outdoors, a mask will not be required for fully vaccinated individuals.

This appears to be a huge relief for the millions of California residents. While the state’s reopening trails behind other states, it also provides clarity to people who have been eager to return to normalcy. By this point in time, all Californians aged 16+ are able to get vaccinated. So long as there are vaccines readily available and a low number of hospitalizations, Governor Newsom is prepared to fully open the economy.

We’re approaching a point of progress that seemed impossible last summer. Now that the numbers are decreasing and faces are getting freed, we might really be ready to embrace life post-COVID. Yet there are still cases of COVID-19 in California. Yes, the numbers are fewer, but they’re not entirely gone. This might mean regulations are being dropped during a period of time when they’re still critical.

What We Know

The CDC has finally given Americans the green light to resume daily life without a mask if they are fully vaccinated. People are considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of their vaccine , and anyone who has already reached this milestone is safe to commence life without a mask. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as air travel or large crowds and gatherings. For most areas of daily life, full vaccination means no need for a mask. Even if you’re walking in a store with other unmasked, unvaccinated people, the vaccinated person should have immunity.

California isn’t so quick to adopt this policy. In the Golden State, June 15th is the maskless day.
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Many stores are dropping mask regulations for fully vaccinated individuals. Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Starbucks are all part of the roster. In California, these retailers won’t ease their regulations until June 15th to continue the vaccination distribution process. If you go to a Target in Florida or Texas, you won’t need a mask. Those states have removed COVID-19 protocols for weeks: months in Texas’s case.

As it stands, this means most children should remain in masks. In California, health care workers are preparing to administer the Pfizer vaccine to children aged 12-15. Other vaccines have not yet been approved for children under the age of 16.

This makes schools a hot topic in California. Most schools are open in some capacity at this point in the pandemic. Hybrid models and alternating in-person days have become common. This is combined with mask mandates and social distancing. Fall 2021 may look different. Gov. Newsom is preparing for in-person, full time classes. Younger students will likely be unvaccinated while the older students may have the vaccine. Many California universities will require university students to be vaccinated to attend school in-person. The University of California and California State University systems has already opted into this requirement, and other schools are following them.

Unsurprisingly, California’s plans to reopen are highly dependent upon vaccinations. They also seem to be watching other states to learn best practices. If other states begin to experience problems with maskless patrons in retail stores, California’s government is likely to take action before Californians are impacted.

What We Don’t Know

Vaccination has been showing a lot of promise. Individuals who have been vaccinated are able to do much more, but there are things the CDC still needs to understand. The biggest question marks fall into three areas: length of effectiveness, ability to prevent COVID-19 variants, and impact on individuals with weakened immune systems. As the number of vaccinated individuals increases, the CDC is able to gather more information. Often, this is good news. In the past we questioned whether or not vaccinated individuals could carry the virus and spread it, despite having a lack of symptoms. Evidence has since demonstrated that is unlikely.

Even the people who trust the CDC’s guidance will be left with another concern. How do we know all the maskless people have truly been vaccinated? The answer: we won’t.
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If you see someone without a mask, they won’t need to prove their status. There won’t be any “vaccine passport” or required documentation to prove you’re vaccinated. It’s a merit system, and people are going to lie. This will allow the virus to continue to spread and numbers to remain above zero.

As time progresses, we also see longterm effect of COVID. Even in people who were asymptomatic. With worries that the vaccine will require a booster shot, a time will come when people have lowered immunity. This ignites fears that people could suffer longterm impacts of contracting COVID, even when their symptoms are reduced or invisible.

All of these uncertainties are juxtaposed by economic challenges. Businesses have been struggling to keep doors open, and in many cases doors closed permanently. The good news: analysts anticipate California’s economy will recover faster than the rest of the United States. This isn’t guaranteed, but it demonstrates that efforts to slow the spread are finally paying off.

Is California Opening Too Fast?

Clearly, California has not been hasty in its reopening process. Many residents have been very frustrated with the restrictions and it has hurt public perceptionof Gavin Newsom. There’s also the opposite side of the spectrum. Many people think the CDC is advising us to make too many changes too quickly.

California is unique in a couple of ways. They have waited a bit longer to remove restrictions, but they’ve made June 15th a massive transitional day. Not only is capacity increasing in stores, but the vaccinated population can lower their masks. This instills a lot of trust in the public, and there’s a very real fear that this trust is not warranted. As of May 18, 2021 Our World In Data reports 53% of Californians have received at least one vaccination. This leaves millions of people without immunization on June 15th.
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Current trends demonstrate that vaccines are easily available. It also shows hospitalizations are down as are the number of overall cases. Still, COVID is far from eradicated. On June 15th, there will be few restrictions stopping people from socializing in public. This will turn into students congregating in classroom in the Fall. The goal shouldn’t be to empty hospital beds just to fill them again.

We can’t ignore the fact that our economy needs the support of public freedoms. If we want economic growth, we need to welcome people into stores and encourage people to apply for jobs. COVID’s restrictions have made this especially challenging in California.

I’m certainly not a health expert, but I can feel a sense of hopefulness that has come with the increase in vaccination. After the hopefulness comes the hesitation. It seems inevitable that we will see some numbers go up after June 15th. I can’t help but feel that California should have taken smaller steps when reopening because June 15th feels like it’s going to completely flip a switch. People are responsible for assuming the risks of their actions, and any restrictions will be self-imposed. No one would blame you for approaching the reopening with hesitation, there are reasons to be concerned. Conversely, no one would blame you for embracing the reopening. It has been a long time with restrictions imposed, and we all feel a sense of relief when we see them eased.