Signs of life return as the pandemic eases in the Bay Area

Even before the doors opened, families lined up outside the Children's Discovery Museum Of San Jose Friday morning.

After 13 months of lockdown, people finally were allowed to come inside. And kids got to do cool stuff again like get behind the wheel of an ambulance, turn a few cranks, and toss balls into the water.

The museum is opening at 25% capacity. That's about 250 people at a time.

Some exhibits have been moved outside and masks are a must.

"We've marked our space so families can use one exhibit at a time. We've filled the place with hand sanitizer because we are such a hands-on place," said Merilee Jennings, the museum's executive director.

Grown-ups too have a place to let loose a little.

The Los Altos First Friday Festival returns on the evening of April 2 from 6-8 pm.

It's a chance for people to come downtown and listen to music from eight different local bands, eat, and check out the shops.

It's a nine-year tradition stopped by COVID, now restarting.

"People are just going crazy and itching to just go out and shake the booty and have some fun," says event co-chairwoman and local business owner Carol Garsten,

Masks and social distancing are required. And it's a way to draw people to the small downtown shops and restaurants.

"The downtown, the mom and pop stores, people like me who have been in business for 34 years, we need people to come out again," says Garsten. "We checked it out with the city, the county, and the state to make sure we are compliant."

Another attraction that returns Saturday, The Tilden Park Steam Train near Berkeley.

Workers were busy getting it ready for reopening from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"All these kids have been cooped up in the house for so long, I'm sure the parents are going berserk. So we are going to try and get them outside," says train owner Ellen Thomsen.

The train had been operating for 69 years until COVID put on the brakes. The trains will now be carrying fewer passengers. Wait times may be longer than usual. But the owner hopes it will provide a break from the pandemic.

"We are trying to preserve the history and technology of the late 19th century. What steam could do and how steam was used," says Thomsen.

The COVID case rates and other metrics are allowing such attractions to reopen.

But UC Berkeley infectious disease specialist Dr. John Swartzberg says people may want to wait another month before checking them out.

"As people start to see these things opening up, people are going to be less careful. And I see April as being a pivotal month in this pandemic," Swartzberg says.