SAN DIEGO (CNS) - With infections and hospitalizations dropping and vaccinations rising, California is on track to lift the bulk of its COVID-19 regulations on June 15, including a complete removal of capacity restrictions and physical distancing requirements, the state's Health and Human Services Secretary said Friday.
Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state will largely align with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines on mask-wearing, and some travel restrictions may linger involving trips to countries heavily impacted by the virus.
He said there will be no state-mandated or state-operated "vaccine passport" program, but some individual businesses or venues may choose to require such verifications for employees and customers.
For "mega-outdoor" events -- those with more than 10,000 people -- "we are recommending that those operators have a system to verify vaccination, verify a negative test, or in the case where attendees are neither vaccinated or tested, give that person an option to come into the event but wear a mask throughout the event," Ghaly said.
However, vaccinations or negative COVID-19 tests will be required for people to attend large-scale indoor events with more than 5,000 people.
"We are requiring -- requiring, not recommending -- a vaccine verification/negative test, and there will not be an option to come in if you're neither of those and you can't verify that by just wearing a mask," he said.
Ghaly said the state will provide guidance to venue operators and other business owners about how to go about verifying vaccinations or negative tests, possibly including "self-attestation" by attendees.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in April that the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy -- the color-coded, four-tier system that dictates COVID restrictions on capacity and operations at businesses and other venues during the pandemic -- would be lifted June 15. The date was chosen to allow ample time for a large segment of the population to get vaccinated.
While vaccinations continue to increase, demand has waned in recent weeks and some counties across the state continue to languish in more restrictive red or orange tiers of the state's blueprint, including Riverside and San Diego counties. But Ghaly said Friday that while the state is still hoping to see case rates drop further and vaccinations increase, the plan for lifting restrictions on June 15 will go forward.
"We are now at a point, given our metrics that we've been watching, California is at a place where we can begin to talk about moving beyond the blueprint," Ghaly said.
He noted that more than 35.5 million vaccine doses have been administered statewide, the case transmission rate is below the goal and hospitalizations have fallen to a level not seen "since the very early months and weeks of the pandemic." He said the average daily number of new hospital admissions is currently 260, below the state-set benchmark of 300.
According to Ghaly, moving "beyond the blueprint" on June 15 means:
-- elimination of capacity restrictions
-- elimination of physical distancing requirements for "attendees, customers and guests at businesses"
-- adherence to the CDC guidelines on mask-wearing, which currently allows vaccinated people to shed masks in most situations
-- aligning with CDC guidance on travel, meaning the state "will have a travel advisory, but it will track with the CDC"
"What we expect to see potentially is different parts of our globe that have severe outbreaks may have some restrictions and prohibitions on travelers coming into the country and we will follow those according to the CDC," Ghaly said. "But there will not be in the same way that we've had quarantines and isolation requirements for travel within the country."