California lifts its statewide Covid stay-at-home orders

California lifted its stay-at-home order statewide Monday after four-week projections showed intensive care unit capacity to be above 15% in beleaguered regions for the first time in weeks.

“Today we can lay claim to starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to case numbers,” said the California governor Gavin Newsom during a press briefing on Monday.

Monday’s change moves counties back to a tiered system of reopening, with most regions across the state expected to move into the most restrictive tier. It lifts an evening curfew and, in many areas, will allow restaurants and churches to resume outdoor operations and hair and nail salons to reopen. Local officials still could choose to impose stricter rules.

The decision came amid improving trends in the state’s rate of infections, hospitalizations and intensive care unit capacity as well as vaccinations. Newsom said on Monday that California averaged 23,283 new coronavirus cases per day over the past week, and its positivity rate was down to 8%, below that of Texas, Florida and Arizona.

Monday’s announcement follows months of a relentless case surge that exhausted the healthcare system statewide and made California the first US state to record 3m Covid-19 infections. It also comes as more than 50 wine country-based restaurants and wineries have filed a lawsuit against Newsomover the state’s restrictions on outdoor dining.

Public officials in some of California’s major cities and counties indicated they could soon lift local restrictions.

“We will be moving forward with some limited re-openings, including outdoor dining and personal services,” said the San Francisco mayor London Breed in a tweet.

Orange county planned to lift some restrictions as well, said Jessica Good, a spokesperson for the county health agency. In Los Angeles county, home to 10 million people, the Republican district supervisor Kathryn Barger expressed support for opening outdoor dining, personal care services and other industries and said the state must balance public health with “devastating social, emotional and economic impacts of this virus”.Los Angeles county public health officials are expected to hold a briefing later Monday.

Others expressed dismay at how the order will affect low-income communities of color that have already been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic because so many work as essential workers in service industry jobs.

“This new executive order is surprising,” tweeted Lena Gonzalez, a California state senator. “My quintessential question: How are low income communities of color and essential workers being impacted by this order? Why do I have to keep asking this question?”

Newsom instituted the regional stay-at-home order in December that was dependent on intensive care unit capacity. Regions such as southern California, where one in three Los Angeles county residents are believed to have been infected with coronavirus, and the rural San Joaquin valley, where hospital capacity was never much to begin with, have been under lockdown since the first week of December.

Statewide, just two regions had the stay-at-home order removed: the greater Sacramento region, which left the order on 12 January, and the northern California region, which never entered the order.

“California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been hoping for,” said Dr Mark Ghaly, California health and human services secretary, in a statement. “Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared.”

As of Monday, California had nearly 3.17m reported cases of Covid-19. It took California six months to record its first 10,000 deaths. But in barely a month, the total rose from 20,000 to 30,000, with 37,138 people dead as of Monday.

Nearly 2.2m doses of the vaccine have been administered, about 45% of the total vaccines the state has received. The state is still in the earlier phases of vaccine rollout, with healthcare workers, food and agriculture workers, education workers and Californians ages 65 years and older receiving doses first. The state has been criticized for its slow rollout, which Newsom acknowledged. “We realize we have got to increase throughput here.” he said. “While we are proud of the framework we put out, the CDC put out and others, we recognize it has advantages and it has disadvantages and it relates to speed and efficiency.”

The first case of coronavirus in California was confirmed one year ago today.