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COVID Reopening: California To Allow For Indoor Gatherings, Concerts April 15; Testing Or Vaccination Required

SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — California will allow indoor concerts, theater performances and other private gatherings starting April 15 as the rate of people testing positive for the coronavirus nears a record low.

The decision is a sharp turnaround from the slow pace California has taken on lifting restrictions, and comes as the governor urges people to continue being vigilant about wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

To attend gatherings, people will have to either be tested or show proof of full vaccination. California has administered nearly 19 million doses and nearly 6.9 million people are fully vaccinated in a state with nearly 40 million residents. But only people 50 and over are eligible statewide to get the vaccine now. Adults 16 and older won't be eligible until April 15.

Officials with the Golden State Warriors and San Jose Sharks, two teams that have been playing without fans in the stands, expressed support for the state's move but had yet to release specifics on when spectators would return.

"As has been documented for several months, we are in ongoing conversations with the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the City and County of San Francisco regarding the return of fans to Chase Center," the Warriors said. "We hope to have specific details available to share shortly."

In a statement to KPIX, the Sharks said, "We will need to review the recently released State guidance for indoor venues, and will be communicating any potential SAP Center reopening plans with fans once finalized."

San Francisco health officials also said they would need time to review the guidelines. "We know San Franciscans are eager to resume these types of events, but as with everything we do during this pandemic, we have to continue to prioritize public health as we move forward with reopening," said a statement from the city's COVID Command Center.

"You need to be careful and going into venues where people take off their masks the minute everyone turns their back — those are going to be problems," says Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist with UCSF.

Leslee Stewart, general manager of Paramount Theatre in Oakland, was enthusiastic. "It's the first piece of good news we've had in 13 months," she told KPIX.

Stewart said it's been tough for those in the performing arts industry, waiting for the right and safe time to reopen. "I don't want people coming into our venue and getting sick. I don't want to put anyone in harm's way," she said.

All across San Francisco, the silence of the live entertainment industry can be seen. At the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the sign out front says it all: "One Year Dark. No Shows Since 3-13-20."

At the Regency Ballroom, boards have covered up the windows and marquees across the city bear quotes instead of coming acts.

"It costs us about a thousand dollars a day just to stay closed," said Rob Ready, co-founder of Piano Fight in the Tenderloin.

While the announcement indoor venues can re-open as counties move through the state's tier system, don't expect them to come roaring back to life on April 15.

"While it's obviously a great step in the right direction back to some sense of normalcy with venues, venues are a low-margin business and when you open at anything less than full capacity, it really just accelerates your burn rate, you lose money," Ready told KPIX.

Under the new rules, how many people can attend events will depend on the level of restrictions in place at each county. The state divides counties into four tiers based on how widespread the virus is in those places.

The purple tier is most restrictive. Indoor concerts and theater performances aren't allowed in this tier. They are allowed in the red tier, but at 10% capacity for venues of up to 1,500 people and 20% capacity for venues with capacity greater than that. Capacity limits increase in the lower tiers.

Private events, including receptions or conferences, are allowed only outdoors in the purple tier and will be limited to 25 people. They're allowed indoors in the red tier, but limited to 50 people. However, that capacity increases to 200 people if all guests are tested or show full proof of vaccination.

"Today's update to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy is a result of the progress we are making both in vaccinations and in controlling the spread of COVID-19," California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. "By following public health guidelines such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated when eligible, we can resume additional activities as we take steps to reduce risk."

Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared at a San Diego vaccination site Friday to highlight inoculation efforts in the country's most populous state. The previous day Newsom, a Democrat, received a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as he became eligible with other people in their 50s and early 60s to make an appointment.

Newsom said he couldn't recall which arm was poked as neither hurt.

"I took the vaccine 24 hours ago. Honestly, slept like a baby, feel great," he said. "If you are 50 or older please go take the time to prepare to get a vaccine, we're not going to get to herd immunity, we're not going to get back to that semblance of normalcy unless we get more people vaccinated."

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX correspondent Andrea Nakano and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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