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California May Reopen By Mid-June, Contingent On Public Health Metrics

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

California's governor is planning for life after the pandemic. Gavin Newsom says if coronavirus numbers keep improving, this can happen June 15.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: We can start to open up as business as usual...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

NEWSOM: ...Subject to ongoing mask wearing and ongoing vigilance.

INSKEEP: KQED reporter April Dembosky is in San Francisco and covering this story eagerly, no doubt. Good morning.

APRIL DEMBOSKY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Wow, looking forward to life something like normal, like, except still wearing masks. What has to go right for this to work?

DEMBOSKY: Right. There are two main things, vaccines and hospitalizations. So California had one of the slower vaccine rollouts in the beginning. But now it's doing pretty well. The state has administered 20 million vaccines so far. That's more than France or Germany.

INSKEEP: Wow.

DEMBOSKY: If California were a country, we'd be sixth in the world for the number of shots given. So the governor says if supplies stay steady like that, there will be enough vaccine for all adults in California to be fully protected by June 15. The other thing is, you know, our hospitalization rates have been declining. Death rates are low. Case rates are low. So as long as both of those trends continue, as long as people stay out of the hospital and the state continues to get the vaccine supplies it's expecting, the reopening can move forward.

INSKEEP: Still some anxiety, though, about vaccine hesitancy, about variants that are more contagious. Is mid-June realistic for reopening?

DEMBOSKY: Yeah. I mean, you know, it's based on the math. The state is getting about 2 million doses of vaccine every week. Next week, it will open eligibility to all adults 16 and over who want the vaccine. So if supplies stay steady, two months is a reasonable amount of time for people to make an appointment, get their first and second dose and allow time for it to kick in. Now, as you mentioned, California has detected several variants of the virus here. So the governor is saying there's a race on between the variants and the vaccine. Can we get people vaccinated faster than the variants can spread? So that's the lingering question.

INSKEEP: If they meet the June 15 deadline, what is, quote, "normal," unquote, life look like after that date?

DEMBOSKY: Well, there will still be some precautions that people have to take. Californians will have to continue wearing masks. The state has a mask mandate. And that will stay in place indefinitely, especially for indoor activities. Also, there will be some testing requirements. So for large events like indoor conventions or basketball games, people will have to get tested and show proof of vaccination. At this point, it's unclear how that will be enforced at the state level or the county or city level. Or will the business itself have to do it?

INSKEEP: Given that there is some uncertainty, why would the governor announce now, more than two months in advance, that June 15 is the likely date?

DEMBOSKY: Well, the state says it wants to give businesses plenty of time to plan and prepare. It has gotten some criticism in the past for not giving enough notice about changes. And it wants people 16 and older to start signing up for vaccines next week so they'll be protected in time. There's also a political reality here. Governor Newsom is facing a potential recall election in the fall. So some Republicans think this announcement is the direct result of him feeling pressure from that campaign. So you know, maybe Newsom wants there to be some good news out there. There could be a political risk to making this announcement 10 weeks in advance. If the numbers in California start to go in the wrong direction, if something happens with vaccine supplies, he might have to backtrack on this reopening plan. But for now, Newsom is feeling pretty confident. He says that the light at the end of the tunnel has never been brighter. So this could just be about giving people some hope.

INSKEEP: April, thanks for the insights.

DEMBOSKY: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: KQED reporter April Dembosky in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.