California’s COVID tiering system could be over by summer, but mask mandate remains

California is poised to eliminate its tiered reopening system on June 15 as coronavirus case rates fall and vaccinations increase, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.

The removal of the tier system, formally called the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, will be predicated on the widespread availability of vaccines and the lack of an additional spring or summer surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, according to Newsom.

Newsom estimated that some 30 million vaccine doses will have been administered by the end of April. Vaccine appointments are expected to open to all residents across the state on April 15. “This is really a race, these vaccines, against the variants, against the mutations,” Newsom said during a briefing Tuesday at a vaccination site in San Francisco.

“That’s why … it’s incumbent upon all of us not to announce ‘mission accomplished,’ not to put down our guard but to continue that vigilance that got us where we are today,” he said, referencing that the state now has the lowest test positivity rate in the country.

State public health officials have already tweaked the tier system several times in recent months, lowering the thresholds counties must meet to advance to less restrictive tiers and adding guidance for previously forbidden activities and large events like concerts, conventions, and live sports. The tier system’s retirement will still include the continuation of virus transmission mitigation measures like masking and social distancing. Newsom noted that he and other state officials have no plans for now to get rid of the state’s mask mandate.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly also said that lifting the state’s reopening system will depend on coronavirus-related hospitalizations as well as which groups of people are being hospitalized. Reopening plans could change if a large portion of those being hospitalized have been fully vaccinated, Ghaly said.

(Malte Mueller/Getty Images)

“We’re looking internationally, on the east coast, in the Midwest and we’re seeing many of those who are hospitalized today with COVID as those who have not yet received the vaccine,” Ghaly said.

Roughly 20 million vaccine doses have been administered statewide, according to Newsom, equivalent to roughly 7.5 million residents who are fully vaccinated and 6 million who have received the first of two doses required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Newsom said the state is expects to receive around 2.4 million doses of vaccine this week from the federal government with the expectation of more in the coming weeks. Ultimately, state officials expect to have the capacity to administer nearly 6 million shots per week once local health departments, retail pharmacies and multi-county health care entities have enough supply to meet demand.

“We are seeing bright light at the end of the tunnel,” Newsom said. “And on June 15, all things being equal, we continue that good work, we’ll have moved beyond that Blueprint and we’ll be opening up this economy and business as usual.”

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