California’s great COVID pivot: Pandemic policies expire
With the California COVID test positivity rate dropping to 1.9%, local governments are racing to reverse strict pandemic policies.
Although school mask wars are far from over — numerous districts, including Los Angeles Unified and Sacramento City Unified, plan to continue requiring face coverings until further notice — the end to the statewide rule marks what is possibly California’s most decisive move yet to turn the page on the pandemic.
And with the statewide test positivity rate slipping to 1.9% on Thursday — a figure not seen since July — local governments are also racing to reverse strict pandemic policies.
- Starting today, San Francisco will no longer require people to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result to enter indoor restaurants, bars and gyms — though some businesses plan to keep the rule in place.
- Those mandates are also set to expire today in the city of Berkeley.
- The Los Angeles City Council took a big step this week toward lifting vaccine verification requirements to enter many indoor businesses — rules that expired last week in Los Angeles County.
- And Santa Clara County is moving to rehire about 120 workers previously placed on administrative leave for not getting a booster shot.
Meanwhile, the federal government on Thursday extended its mask mandate for planes and public transportation — which was set to expire on March 18 — through April 18, but said it will use the extra month to prepare guidelines for lifting the rule.
The rapid shedding of pandemic precautions has raised concerns for some Californians, who point out that the virus continues to pose a serious threat to immunocompromised people and vulnerable communities. As CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reported, COVID has actually become deadlier for Black Californians since vaccines became widely available.
The quick policy reversals have also raised questions about how permanent any of these rule changes really are.
- Emily Dibiny, who leads the community health team for People Organized for Westside Renewal: “Next thing you know, they’re going to say, ‘No, now it’s mandatory again.'”
Still, that California is paring down its pandemic response was evident from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State address Tuesday night. The governor didn’t mention COVID until midway through his speech, and kept his comments on the pandemic brief. “I want to take a moment to thank all of you … for all you did these past two years to help keep us safe,” he told state lawmakers, before pivoting to the topic of homelessness.