No more tiers: California does away with COVID color codes, reopens economy

On June 15, California can breathe a little easier in many situations. That’s when the state does away with the color coded Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The multi-tiered color coded system was implemented in April of 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. While there may be no more tiers, the debate over masks in the workplace is leaving California in somewhat of a state of confusion, at least for a little while longer.

Emerging from the pandemic was never going to be a light switch situation with science, health and safety precautions involved. However, Governor Gavin Newsom is sticking to his firm date and the state has been preparing to ‘get back to normal.’

Goodbye, social distancing

Health officials are getting the word out that for most businesses and activities, capacity and distancing restrictions will be lifted.

California Department of Public Health order goes into effect June 15

This is an encouraging development for the Golden State’s economic recovery. But residents and business owners alike want clarity when it comes to reopening guidelines.

People want to know if their local county and the state will be on the same page. San Francisco recently committed itself to aligning with the state's reopening plans. But some business owners told KTVU they’re concerned over staffing issues and whether or not they’ll have enough workers to handle the influx of patrons as people get reacquainted with going out to bars, theaters, restaurants and other businesses. 

Tougher rules for ‘mega’ crowds

For everyone, going forward, the state will focus capacity restrictions on what they consider to be ‘mega events.’ Mega-events are defined as those with greater than 5,000 people in an indoor setting or 10,000 or more outdoors. State health officials elaborate by saying shows, nightclubs, concerts, sporting events, theme parks, fairs, festivals, large races, and parades could be considered mega events based on how many people attend.

As a result, Californians can expect proof of vaccination or negative COVID test requirements for indoor mega events through at least October 1. For outdoor mega events, rather than a requirement, the state is making it a recommendation. If you can’t provide vaccination proof or a negative test, the health department suggests you be asked to wear a face covering.

What happens after October 1 will depend on the vaccination and infection rates. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) says they will assess conditions by September 1, to determine whether these requirements are necessary beyond October 1.

Masks at work

So what about masks in the workplace? This issue has been murky to say the least with all the recent back and forth from Cal/OSHA, the group that oversees state workplace regulations, but things appear to be clearing up somewhat. 

Their recent board meetings have seen them flip flop on controversial mask rules that would have required workers to continue wearing a mask in some situations even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

At one point, Cal/OSHA's board left in place guidelines from November requiring all workers to wear a mask at all times, regardless of vaccination status. 

By the week's end, Cal/OSHA latest masking guidelines, which the board is set to vote on June 17, seemed to align with the state and CDC as the governor had hoped. 

Newsom said Friday that he expects to make sure the worksite regulations take effect soon after the planned reopening. Businesses have been baffled by the shifting rules over who needs to wear masks and where once the nation's largest state fully reopens from the pandemic.

READ: California guidance on the use of face coverings

The optics of masking at work in a so-called fully reopened state, may seem anticlimactic. Newsom faces a recall election over how he handled the pandemic and the damage safety restrictions inflicted on businesses and the economy.

The result of Cal/OSHA board's June 17 vote would still have a 10-day waiting period before their decision becomes final. That doesn't exactly align with Newsom's hope of a June 15 reopening. 

California will align with CDC mask guidance on June 15

Kids stay covered

School masking guidance remains in place as masks are still required indoors for K-12. 

State health officials remind that 15% of the population, children up to 11 years of age, are not yet eligible for the vaccine. They remain at risk to COVID-19 exposure and infection until full community immunity is reached. 

State health officials said this could change pending updates to guidance from CDC.  

CDPH will continue to provide guidance around youth settings, in addition to healthcare and other high-risk congregate settings such as shelters, detention centers and nursing homes.

Masks should also be worn on public transportation as the state aligns with CDC's travel recommendations. This includes airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares. 

Hopefully California's next phase in the waning pandemic will be more manageable. But at any rate, it has finally arrived. 

Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.