California has cleared a path for fans to attend opening-day baseball games and for tourists to return to Disneyland, nearly a year after coronavirus restrictions shuttered major entertainment spots.
The state on Friday relaxed guidelines for reopening outdoor venues as a fall and winter surge seemed to be ending, with Covid-19 infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths plummeting and vaccination rates rising.
New public health rules would allow live concerts at stadiums and sports arenas to reopen with limited attendance from 1 April. Amusement parks also will be permitted to reopen in counties that have fallen from the state’s purple tier – the most restrictive – to the red tier. In all cases, park capacities will be limited and Covid-19 safety rules such as mask-wearing requirements will apply.
The move followed a week of milestones, with California ramping up vaccinations for the poorest neighborhoods, counties reopening more businesses and Governor Gavin Newsom passing a measure aimed at encouraging schools that have restricted students to online learning to reopen classrooms this month.
“Steady opening is consistent with the data. As cases decline, we want to return to work and school,” said Dr Jeffrey Klausner, clinical professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. “Outdoor activities in particular have always been low risk. Opening these sites makes sense.”
Thousands of workers were laid off by Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm and other big locations. Ten thousand lost their jobs alone at Disneyland and its related attractions in Orange county, not to mention the knock-on effect to nearby restaurants and hotels.
Andrea Zinder, president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union that represents Disney workers, said employees were “excited to go back to work and provide Californians with a bit more magic in their lives”.
Most major theme parks are in southern California, which is still in the purple category. However, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties there were expecting to reopen within the next few weeks as Covid-19 numbers fall.
Only 16 of 58 counties are in the red tier and two small counties are in the orange tier. None are yet in the yellow tier, the lowest and least restrictive. Theme parks in the red tier will be limited to 15% capacity. Outdoor sports will be limited to 100 people in the purple tier but will increase up to 67% in the yellow tier.
The San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland As all announced they will have fans in the stands for opening day on 1 April. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants start their seasons on the road and said they would announce plans later.
Teams and event organizers can only sell tickets regionally in the purple tier. In the other tiers, teams and organizers can sell tickets to anyone living in California. No concessions will be allowed in the purple tier, while in others, concession sales will only be available at seats.
The quicker pace of reopening is tied to a new plan to vaccinate California’s most vulnerable residents. Once 2 million people across 400 zip codes in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods receive at least one vaccine dose, it will be easier for counties to exit the state’s most restrictive tier. Once 4 million people in those neighborhoods are vaccinated, counties will be able to open up even more.
A year ago, Newsom imposed the statewide stay-at-home order that restricted travel, shuttered businesses and forced millions of people onto unemployment. California still has among the most severe restrictions of any state and continues to discourage out-of-state visitors.
The state is pinning its hopes of a full reopening on inoculating enough of its 40 million residents to halt widespread infections. More than 10 million doses had been given only three months since the first shot was given, the state department of public health said. Just over 3 million people have been fully vaccinated, or about 10% of the population 16 and older.
There are hopeful signs. This week, the seven-day average rate of positive results from tests dropped this week to 2.2%, a record low. Although pressure has been building to reopen the economy, health officials said the changes in guidelines were a cautious and measured rather than a wholesale approach.
“We will … keep our foot on the brake, not the gas, our eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and navigate based on data and science,” said Dr Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state health and human services agency.
This content first appear on the guardian