California is set next week to reopen. Burbank resident Daniel Cota said he plans to lock down.
On Tuesday, June 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled to lift statewide restrictions on businesses’ capacity limits and most social distancing requirements. California’s face covering rules will also align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance, which say fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks in most settings.
Additionally, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards board indicated this week that it could soon allow vaccinated workers in California not to wear face coverings. An earlier decision by the group would have allowed workers to remove masks only if everyone in the room was fully vaccinated, but the board withdrew the revision on Wednesday after outcry from business groups.
The reopening will come as the COVID-19 case rate in California remains among the lowest in the country, according to the Los Angeles Times. Daily cases and deaths continue to fall — encouraging signs for a state that has seen nearly 3.7 million cases and more than 62,000 deaths.
In Burbank, the seven-day average for new coronavirus cases has plummeted to as low as one case a day this week.
Los Angeles County health officials have said that they will change their health order to match the state’s regulations, though businesses will still be able to require customers to wear face coverings.
It’s a day many California residents and businesses have long awaited, and signals the beginning of a return to some semblance of normalcy for those who have been vaccinated. But Cota said he won’t be continuing his weekly visits to the zoo with his wife and 20-month-old daughter.
“It’s not a good thing — for us, at least,” he said of the statewide reopening.
Cota explained that he primarily disapproves of the lifting of the mask mandate, worried that people who haven’t been vaccinated will go maskless as well. His daughter, who isn’t eligible for a shot because of her age, has only recently started to see the world outside of her house and a small pod of friends. If face coverings are no longer ubiquitous, Cota said, the family will have to pull back its activities.
VACCINES EFFECTIVE AT PROTECTION
The COVID-19 vaccines typically protect people from infection, and almost always from severe illness and death, reminds Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health sciences at UCLA.
That some will likely feign being vaccinated to avoid face covering requirements and other restrictions, Shafir added, is “definitely a concern” — not necessarily to those who have been vaccinated, but primarily to those who haven’t or whose health conditions make the shots’ effects less potent.
It’s also not fair to dismiss unvaccinated people as only those who are skeptical about the vaccine, she said. Children under the age of 12 remain ineligible to receive the shot, and Shafir noted that many residents still face barriers to accessing vaccination clinics, including an inability to take time off from work.
To protect those communities and people who are immunocompromised, Safir explained, residents can continue to avoid gathering with multiple households or keep on wearing face coverings. Those measures can be particularly helpful for those who have a family member in a category of added risk.
“I think it’s important to remember that just because you can [stop wearing a mask] doesn’t mean you should,” she said.
Burbank resident Tricia Ebert said she is both excited and nervous about next week’s reopening, pointing out that less than half the population of California has been fully vaccinated. About 57% of Burbank residents age 16 and older have received at least one dose, according to the L.A. County public health department.
Some of Ebert’s friends were among the nearly 9,000 Burbank residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, she said. Some of them became very sick, though none died. Still, she finds herself nervous when removing her mask to eat indoors at a restaurant — which she recently did for the first time in a year and a half.
“It was a bit unnerving,” Ebert said. “For grocery shopping, to be honest, I think I might continue to wear a mask.”
Local resident Elijah Sage, who has been vaccinated, said he’s looking forward to taking off his mask. The statewide reopening next week could serve as the beginning of a test period, he said; if coronavirus case rates continue to fall, he’ll feel better about visiting the theater and going to local events.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be a good thing,” Sage said about the reopening. “If this is truly the last stage [of the pandemic] and we’re coming out of this, I hope people have learned a lot about it and we continue to make smart choices with public health and personal safety.”
While infections are still being seen in those who haven’t been vaccinated, Shafir acknowledged people’s need to return to activities they’ve avoided for 15 months. And, she said, the lifting of restrictions for vaccinated people can provide an incentive for those on the fence to get a shot.
“We’ve asked everybody for over a year to always wear a mask, to never come within 6 feet of someone with whom you don’t live. It’s not going to feel comfortable for a while,” Shafir said. “But for individuals who are vaccinated and for individuals who are living in a household that is fully vaccinated, it’s going to be OK to begin to go back to some of those interactions.”