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California Could Lift All COVID-19 Restrictions Statewide, Eliminate Tier System By June 15th

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- More than a year after completely shutting down the state in the face of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, California officials announced Tuesday that based on vaccine distribution and a continuing decline in new hospitalizations all COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted statewide on June 15.

"In anticipation and expectation that we do all of the above and I will repeat -- to continue to wear face coverings, continuing to access vaccines and continuing to administer vaccines in an equitable framework. If we keep the pace, we are now moving beyond the (reopening tiered) blueprint," Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a San Francisco news conference Tuesday morning.

"We are announcing today that on June 15th we will be moving beyond the blueprint and we will be getting rid of the colored tiers. We'll be moving past the dimmer switch. We will be getting rid of the blueprint as you know it today. That's on June 15 if we continue the good work."

The announcement means that 40 million Californians will finally be able to return to a new normal. Business offices will be able to completely reopen as will restaurants, bars, churches, movie theaters, sport and entertainment venues, and all other businesses that have been struggling to survive under the tough restrictions. In addition, all schools and universities would be re-opened for in-person instruction.

"With more than 20 million vaccines administered across the state, it is time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to fully reopen California's economy," Newsom said. "We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic."

State Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said Californians need to continue to wear masks and avoid gatherings where they think they may come in contact with the disease.

"It's incumbent on all of us now not to announce mission accomplished, not to put down our guard, but to continue that vigilance that got us to where we are today, with the lowest case rates in America," Newsom added. "We are seeing a bright light at the end of the tunnel."

But Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody told county supervisors during her regular COVID update that while cases, deaths and hospitalizations are now flat, we are not out of the woods just yet.

"We have detected all variants of concern in our county," Cody said. "Looks very encouraging that our rates have been decreasing to staying flat, but I think it's really the variants that threaten to undo the progress that we've made."

Meanwhile, Yuki Sushi owner Jennefer Koopman said she can't wait to reopen her doors without capacity restrictions for the first time since the pandemic began.

"We've been anticipating this day to be announced and we didn't know when it was going to happen, now we have a hard date so it's very exciting," Koopman said. "We just want to look at this opportunity to say 'hello' again to this community and 'thank you so much for helping us get through this past year.'"

She said her sushi restaurant has been down 40 to 60 percent in revenue in the last year, and that she hasn't made a profit since last March. But she said she also wants to continue taking precautions even after restrictions are lifted.

"We survived," said Koopman. "This is where it becomes a little scary. At one point, are we being too risky."

In a Tuesday morning conference call, Ghaly announced that the state had distributed 20 million vaccinations -- 4 million among those groups hardest hit by the disease. That total is 7.2 million more than any other state and ranks 6th in the world.

"California has made incredible progress controlling the spread of COVID-19 by staying home, masking, and getting vaccines out quickly to Californians in every corner of the state, including in those communities hardest hit by this pandemic," Ghaly said.

Among older Californians, 70 percent have received at least one dose.

"Hospitalizations have been steadily decreasing," he said. "And fortunately, there is a really low reported number of deaths."

On April 15th, all Californians 16 and older will be eligible to receive doses of vaccine. Ghaly said officials have determined an 8 1/2-week window from that date to prepare for widescale reopening and also to monitor for any possible surges that could delay it.

He said state health officials were also closely monitoring several new variants of the virus detected in California and carefully watching new hospitalizations.

"Hospitalizations are stable and low," Ghaly said. "We are watching who is being hospitalized. Whether they have been vaccinated or not... We are monitoring the new variants...We are hopeful in what we are seeing."

Newsom echoed those sentiments.

"Over a seven-day period now we have a 1.6% positivity rate, statewide," he said. "We report today 1,367 cases; still prevalent, still deadly, still a challenge."

The state will also be jettisoning its color-tier reopening blueprint that has been in place for 31 weeks and has become so familiar to all Californians.

"The state will move into the new status as a whole," Ghaly said. "There will no longer be any tiers."

Like weaving through a maze, getting a vaccine appointment even when eligible weeks ago, has been a challenge for many.

"It's completely random. I've been trying a week or two to get an appointment. I hopped on yesterday, and was able to get it," said San Francisco resident Scott Abbott.

Vaccinated or not, the push to fully reopen is being questioned by some.

"I understand the economy needs to open up, but I'm still really skeptical of the variants," said San Francisco resident Akfahay Gadegone.

Currently, Alameda, San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties have progressed to the Orange Tier. On Tuesday it was announced Contra Costa, Napa and Sonoma counties will move in the Orange Tier on Wednesday morning, while only Solano County remains in the Red Tier in the Bay Area.

Napa is just one of 16 California counties set to move to a less restrictive tier status as of Tuesday's announcement.

Maria Medina contributed to this report.

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