States lift Covid restrictions as US passes 600,000 deaths – as it happened

Lois Beckett in Los Angeles and Peter-Astrid Kane in San Francisco report:

Bars at full capacity. No masks for vaccinated Disneyland goers. Fans sitting side-by-side at Giants and Dodgers games.

California rolled back its major public health restrictions on Tuesday, 15 months after it became the first state in the US to shut down to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

At the stroke of midnight, the state lifted most of its restrictions on social distancing and capacity limits. Vaccinated residents can now go without masks in most settings, with some exceptions – including on public transit, in healthcare facilities, homeless shelters and prisons, and indoors in K-12 schools and childcare facilities, since young children still have not been vaccinated.

The move has been billed as a “grand reopening”, and comes at a moment of optimism for a state that was once squarely in the pandemic’s destructive path.

“This is the lifeline. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Brett Winfield, the operations director for Pouring with Heart, a company that runs nearly 20 bars in Los Angeles.

The relaxing of public health rules about social distancing, patron numbers and mask wearing are “incredibly significant,” Winfield said. “It’s almost impossible to make enough money to run an effective and profitable business at 50% capacity for restaurants, and up to 25% capacity for bars.”

Venues were expecting a big increase in patrons starting Tuesday night, he said. “I think a lot of people were just literally waiting for the government to say, ‘It’s OK.’”

Speaking on the eve of the reopening, California’s governor painted a bright picture of the summer ahead. “With all due respect, eat your heart out, the rest of the United States,” said Gavin Newsom. “The state is not just poised to recover, it’s poised to come roaring back.”

In San Francisco’s Mission district, one of the city’s hardest hit neighbourhoods, bar owner Gillian Fitzgerald said she was expecting a serious crowd this evening.

“I just know that a normal person that would never go out on a Tuesday will be going out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for a few weeks,” said Fitzgerald, who runs Casements, a popular bar that opened only a few months before Covid struck.

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