California plans to fully reopen economy by June 15; no more color-coded tiers

California plans to dissolve its color-coded tier system on June 15 that has for months determined what businesses and activities are permitted in each county, the governor announced on Tuesday.

In other words, that means that California will fully reopen its economy and everyday activities will be allowed in slightly more than two months with certain caveats. 

The welcome shift in restrictions comes as state officials expect to have enough vaccine doses to soon innoculate every person 16 and older in California who wants a shot. Hospitalization rates for COVID patients are also expected to remain low, largely due to the vaccination effort, which officials said made them confident that the restrictions on public life and business could be relaxed. 

Abandoning the color-coded tier system will only take place if there is widespread distribution and availability of COVID vaccinations, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference at City College in San Francisco, which has been set up to be a vaccination site. 

"We are moving beyond the blueprint," Newsom said. "We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic. We will need to remain vigilant, and continue the practices that got us here – wearing masks and getting vaccinated – but the light at the end of this tunnel has never been brighter." 

The state’s mask mandate will remain in place indefinitely, even as other states drop the mask requirements around the country. 

The governor's office said that "common sense" practices must still be adhered to, but there were no capacity limits emphasized that must be followed.

"It really means that everyday activities will be allowed and businesses can open with common sense risk-reduction measures," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services. "We can go to the movies, the beach and see family. We will do this all with science and data as our guide. We continue to monitor the new variants and the vaccine efficacy in suppressing them."

The state will continue to monitor hospitalization rates, vaccine access, and vaccine efficacy against variants, with the option to revisit the June 15 date if needed, health officials said. 

The state does not plan to create a so-called vaccination passport that residents would use to prove they have been inoculated against COVID-19.

"Currently there are no current plans by the state to impose or have a vaccination passport system in California," Ghaly said.

Newsom said he fully expects that schools will be allowed to reopen by the end of June, which is summer vacation anyway for most campuses. But he stopped short of saying he would mandate that they open in the fall. 

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond responded optimistically to Newsom's goal on California's reopening and related it to public schools, saying in part, "there is a clear pathway to a safe and full return to in-person teaching and learning this fall." 

Thurmond touched on continuing to proceed with caution and basing decisions on science and safety. 

"There are still many unknowns about the COVID-19 variants that public health officials are monitoring and have observed spreading among some youth," he said. 

Convention centers will not return to full capacity until October 1, Ghaly said too. Until then, large crowds exceeding 5,000 people will be prohibited. After October 1, there will be some requirements regarding convention center attendees being tested or vaccinated for COVID-19.

Newsom's announcement came as California has administered more than 20 million vaccine doses, including 4 million in the state’s hardest-hit communities. As of Tuesday, Newsom said California had the lowest positivity rate - 1.6% - in the country.