SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Months of fear, isolation and anxiety were replaced with joy, relief and elation at the stroke of midnight Tuesday as state health officials lifted the majority of restrictions put into place to stem the deadly tide of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there was still some confusion about the mask requirements, most San Francisco Bay Area residents were ready to once again attend concerts, join the crowd at the ball park or dine without any restrictions. Disneyland is throwing its doors open to all tourists after allowing just California residents. People can once again pack into indoor bars and nightclubs.READ MORE: Escaped Bear Cub 'Tamarack' Burned in Wildfire Found Near Lake Tahoe
“We’ve been waiting for this day, so we’re really excited, but it’s a different sort of excitement than any other restaurant opening I’ve done,” said Sarah Trubnick, owner and wine director of The Barrel Room. “Those were pure excitement. This is excitement, but a little bit of nervousness, a little hesitation, but I think that’s going to kind of melt away.”
Masks — one of the most symbolic and fraught symbols of the pandemic — will no longer be mandated for vaccinated people in most settings, though businesses and counties can still require them.
Officials in San Francisco on Monday confirmed that the city would follow the state’s guidance as far as the use of face coverings and general business operations for the planned June 15th removal of most COVID restrictions.
An announcement by Mayor London Breed and SF Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax stated that as of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, June 15, San Francisco would implement the Safer Return Together Order to fully reopen for businesses and services in the city.
San Francisco will follow the state’s Beyond the Blueprint for Industry and Business Sectors framework all instances other than small additional local requirements specific to mega events and high-risk institutional settings, city officials said.
Mega events, defined by the state as events involving over 10,000 people attending outside or 5,000 inside, are required to submit a health and safety plan 10 days prior to the event or ticket sales. The order requires that indoor mega events collect proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test if not everyone attending the event is fully masked.
According to a release issued by city government, with the exception of schools, childcare, out-of-school-time programs and guidance regarding isolation and quarantine, San Francisco’s local health directives guiding business behavior will be rescinded.
They are still being required for summer school or on public transportation while traveling on BART, Muni, AC Transit or Golden Gate Transit.
“I was bored of wearing mask, so now life feels normal, but I am vaccinated. I got both the vaccine so I’m okay,” said Jack Gupta of San Francisco.
Others are more hesitant to ditch the mask.
“I’d like to give it up, but for those who aren’t vaccinated it may make me more susceptible, I guess. I have to keep it on,” said Eddie Hard, who was visiting San Francisco from Sacramento.
Garima Gupta is excited for a return to normal.
“It’ll be awesome, I’m tired of wearing mask so I’m really looking forward to it, and really looking forward to seeing more people around.”READ MORE: Power Plant at Oroville Dam Reservoir Shut Down for First Time Due to Lack of Water
Tom La Torre, owner of Sabella & La Torre Restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf, echoed those sentiments. His restaurant is located at Fisherman’s Wharf, a popular tourist haven that transformed into a ghost town during the pandemic.
“We’re excited — and a little confused,” he said. “(It will be) nice to fill the place up. However, we are still confused about the mask mandate.”
The economy is fully reopening for the first time in 15 months and people can largely return to pre-pandemic lifestyles.
For Rita Torres, a retired university administrator in Oakland, the last 15 months were “mind boggling” as she missed dancing at live concerts and hugging her girlfriends at weekly happy hour outings.
“Deep down I want to rejoice,” she said, but she’s going to take it slow. “Because it’s kind of like, is it too soon? Will we be sorry?”
At an event on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed that California was ready to roar back from months of shutdowns.
“With all due respect, eat your heart out, the rest of the United States. There is no state in America that has more,” Newsom said. “The state is not just poised to recover, it’s poised to come roaring back.”
To mark the reopening, Newsom will make a few lucky residents millionaires. In a made-for-TV main event, the governor will draw 10 names of residents who have received at least one vaccine dose and award each one $1.5 million. The drawing is the grand finale to the nation’s largest vaccine incentive, $116 million in a COVID-19 vaccine lottery. Winners can collect the money once they’re fully vaccinated.
Officials want tourists back, too.
“In terms of our incredible cities, our iconic attractions, the industry is ready to roll out the red carpet to visitors in California, around the nation and even the world,” said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California.
Pandemic highs and lows saw California go from being a success story to the U.S. epicenter of the virus. As the first in the country to impose a statewide shutdown in March 2020, California’s businesses were just starting to reopen last June when cases started rising and the state was ordered to close again.
By summer’s end, a darker reality set in as California hurtled toward a deadly winter surge. Shutdowns, curfews and harrowing images from overwhelmed hospitals became the norm as the state set new records almost daily for infection rates and staggering death tolls. More people tested positive for the virus in California (3.8 million and counting) and more people died (63,000 plus) than anywhere else in the country, although the nation’s most populous state had a lower per capita death rate than most others.
California now has one of the lowest rates of infection in the country, below 1%. That dramatic drop in infections combined with an increasing number of vaccinated residents — over 70% of adults have had at least one dose — led Newsom to announce in April that most COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted June 15.
The reopening doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, Newsom has repeatedly stressed as an explanation for retaining his statewide emergency declaration.MORE NEWS: Dixie Fire Update: Buildings Burn In Canyondam; Fire Advance Forces Lassen Park Closure
Some public health measures will stay for “mega events.” People attending indoor concerts, sporting events or other large gatherings for more than 5,000 people will have to show proof that they are vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID-19 test. Attendees at outdoor events with more than 10,000 people are “strongly encouraged” to do the same.