On Monday, the state of California and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that regional stay-at-home lockdown orders, as well as the statewide curfew, were lifted statewide.
The color-coded tier system, which gave readiness by county last year until November when Governor Gavin Newsom instituted the lockdowns, will now be in effect again, allowing each county to decide what opens and to what extent. Most businesses can now reopen to some extent under each tier, including the most restrictive purple tier. This will include restaurants, which can now reopen for outdoor dining. The end of the curfew will also expand business hours for affected businesses, allowing them to stay open later than 10 P.M.
In a press release, CDPH Director Dr. Tomas Aragon noted that while state COVID-19 case and death levels are still very high, the state has seen some improvement, such as the number of available ICU beds increasing every day, and now sees the light at the end of the tunnel due to the continued rollout of vaccines.
“Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner,” said Dr. Aragon on Monday.
The move, which was also green-lighted by Governor Newsom, went into effect immediately on Monday, with many counties and cities scrambling to give announcements on what it meant for them and what the new rules where with county restrictions applied. Some, such as rural Northern and Eastern counties, are in lower-tiers and have said that re-openings will largely be nearly complete. Others, such as densely populated and hard hit counties such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, will reopen on the purple-tier, which will only allow certain things to reopen at reduced capacities.
Despite the restrictive nature of the tiers, city leaders embraced the move on Monday while also stressing proper health precautions.
“San Francisco is moving forward with some limited re-openings now that the statewide Stay at Home Order has been lifted,” tweeted San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Monday.
San Francisco is moving forward with some limited re-openings now that the statewide Stay at Home Order has been lifted.
You can watch our announcement live here: https://t.co/gCOcbcBfuP
The full details of the announcement can be found here: https://t.co/tVFGaD8fBw
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) January 25, 2021
In a later statement, the Mayor clarified the re-openings, including allowing outdoor dining to continue as long as it is with tables of no more than two households, having up to six people, and being spaced a minimum of 6 feet apart from other tables, in addition to other precautions such as wearing masks.
California moves back to the tier-system
Other cities and counties plan to give similar announcements throughout Monday.
However, the Governor and the CDPH are facing criticism for the sudden reopening. Many health experts have noted that, with COVID-19 rates still very high in the state, that it is too early to reopen. In addition, lawmakers and political experts from both parties have said that the timing of the announcement was suspicious.
Incoming Republican Senate leader Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) noted both in an announcement on Monday, saying that science and transparency should be driving the reopening, not politics.
Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson was even blunter, accusing the Governor of trying to throw off the recall campaign against him, which, as of Monday, has over 1.1 million signatures, around 70% of the number needed.
“This Governor’s decisions have never been based on science. Him re-opening our state is not an attempt to help working Californians, but rather an attempt to counter the Recall Movement. It’s sad and pathetic,” Patterson Tweeted.
This Governor's decisions have never been based on science. Him re-opening our state is not an attempt to help working Californians, but rather an attempt to counter the Recall Movement. It’s sad and pathetic.
— Jessica Millan Patterson (@millanpatterson) January 25, 2021
Many restaurants were surprised at the news on Monday, with one Los Angeles restaurant owner comparing it to the end of the Siege of Stalingrad.
“No one knew how long we could last without dining,” LA restaurant owner “Valentina” said. “It looks like we got through this, but I honestly don’t know how. I never thought our state would be so actively against us like that.”
Other restaurant owners who had stayed open in defiance of the law were also surprised by the news on Monday.
“A lot of restaurants here had that, open secret or speakeasy like feel to them,” said “Carlos,” another LA restaurant owner. “People walk in and they saw people at tables, I’d laugh it off saying they were family stopping by or distributors or something.”
“We did it all to city health rules except we were open. Do you know how weird it is fighting for the right to serve food like that? Having to do it secretly to stay open? And now that it’s lifted, or going to be lifted, man, it just feels so weird to be saying this. I had to hide my perfectly legal restaurant to stay open.”
“The lockdown was just insane. It took out so many, and those who survived, like my restaurant, it was either because we had a lot of takeout meals going out or because we had to have a secret dining area. That’s what we had to do to survive: Business.”
More local details on the new tier-based opening rules are expected to be announced in the coming days.