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After more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, California is opening back up. It’s a major change that affects most activities in public spaces, from restaurants and bars to amusement parks and movie theaters.
Starting today (June 15), there are no capacity limits or social distancing requirements at businesses. You can also stop wearing masks in most places if you are vaccinated.
Here are eight things to know:
1. Health experts say we’re ready
“I think the Public Health Department in California has done a very good job of slowing things down when there were surges in cases. Now, I think we’re in a good place to open,” said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health.
California’s vaccination rate and the relatively low transmission rate are good signs. Summer weather will also help.
“Historically, coronavirus transmitted more in winter, so if there’s enough immunity, there should be less transmission just naturally,” Blumberg explained.
2. Vaccinated? You can take off the mask in most places
Masks will no longer be required for fully vaccinated people in most businesses and other public spaces. Unvaccinated individuals should still mask up.
“If you are vaccinated, you can do virtually anything because the vaccines work so well,” Blumberg said. “You don’t have to wear a mask, even when you are in a crowded situation. But anybody who’s not fully vaccinated should continue to mask up if they’re not able to social distance or if they’re going to be indoors with anybody else.”
3. Being nervous about ‘normalcy’ is normal
Going without a mask, eating in a crowded restaurant, or gathering with friends for a party may feel a little strange at first.
“I think the nerves are going to wear off,” Blumberg said. “We’ve gotten so accustomed to following rules, social distancing, not being with other people outside of our households that it feels really strange to then stop following the rules. I think it’s going to take a while to emotionally feel safe in that situation after what we’ve been through.”
Even Blumberg admitted that he felt strange eating out with another couple for the first time at a restaurant.
4. Go at your own pace
Blumberg’s best advice about re-entry? Take small steps and consider your own comfort level.
“I think everybody understands that this reopening requires a recalibration of our carefulness, and some people may not be comfortable in a large gathering yet,” Blumberg said. “Start with a smaller setting and work your way up to something more crowded to make sure you’re comfortable with it.”
It is rare, though still possible, to get infected with COVID-19 even if you’re fully vaccinated, especially in crowds.
“The highest rates of transmission are going to be any area where there’s a high concentration of people – cruise ship, prison or residential centers such as long-term care facilities or shelters,” he said.
Some people may feel like they have been cooped up for so long, they just want to be out. Blumberg notes that it’s a personal risk calculation and you can always still wear a mask if you choose, even if you’re fully vaccinated.
The state has specific recommendations for larger events, like ones with more than 5,000 people. Some organizers may check vaccine status or require negative tests for attendance. Check with each event organizer before attending.
— Dean Blumberg
5. Some stores and businesses might still require you to wear a mask
Make sure to check with private businesses regarding their rules before you go. They may choose to require masks.
Under the new guidelines, masks are still required for everyone in hospitals and on public transit. If you are planning to visit your doctor, count on wearing a mask.
6. What if people choose not to get vaccinated or even lie about their vaccination status?
Unvaccinated people should still wear masks. The people who aren’t fully vaccinated are the ones at the greatest risk of infection, according to Blumberg.
“They’re taking a personal risk,” he said.
The higher the concentration of unvaccinated people, in any community, the higher the risk of sustained transmission.
7. Young kids should still take precautions
Right now, kids 12 and older are eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine. If they are vaccinated, then they don’t need to be masked. Kids under 12, however, should still continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 protocols.
“Children under 12 should be masking whenever they’re not able to social distance around people outside or whenever they’re inside. But if children are unvaccinated and masked, then they could go to the movies, for example,” Blumberg said.
Children under 2 should still not wear masks.
8. Variants are a concern and new restrictions are possible
With many COVID-19 variants detected in California, Blumberg advises people to stay informed.
He said the Delta variant, first detected in India, is currently a major concern with about 90% more transmissions compared to previously circulating strains.
“It’s definitely something to keep a lookout for because a higher transmission rate means more people in the community need to be vaccinated and immune.”
The state’s reopening guidelines are scheduled to be in place until at least Oct. 1.